Christi Gandham, DO , Medical Director
Christi Gandham Bio
    It is 104 degrees. Sweat streams down my brow and into my eyes, forcing me to stop my hammer mid swing. With my stinging eyes now welling up with tears, it is impossible to continue the task at hand. As my sight returns, I see an expanse of houses made of cardboard, chicken wire and scrap metal. My body is sore from carrying large planks of plywood and hammering countless nails for the past three days. With little cloud cover to shield us today, the hot sun blares down on me and the other teams of people who have come to build new, sturdy homes for the poor families in this small Mexican village in Reynosa. Standing on top of the partly finished roof of this eight-by-ten house, I can almost see the church where my team is leading woman and children in uplifting songs, and where an ophthalmologist and her family are performing eye exams and distributing glasses to hundreds of villagers. As I get back on my knees and continue driving nails to complete this roof, I cannot help but think how much more impact this doctor was making on these people’s lives by providing medical care.
    My desire to become a physician was sparked in a setting very similar to Reynosa, and may have been the reason for my bias. My parents owned and operated a small, two-room medical clinic in a rural Indian village. This humble medical center was not only my parents’ place of work, it was also our home. The front room was where they saw patients by day, and the back room was where my parents, younger sister and I slept at night. I spent the first four years of my life in that clinic, and at that age, I thought my parents’ job was to play with stethoscopes and give people injections. It was not until returning to India about a decade later that I learned the truth of my parents’ medical practice and how much they meant to their community. As we entered the village, throngs of people adorned us with garlands of fragrant roses and jasmine flowers; a traditional, celebratory sign of love and honor. They told me stories of how my parents had delivered their babies, treated their wounds and helped cure their illnesses. I was amazed to hear what my parents had done, but what struck me most was the joy in my mother and father’s eyes as they reunited with their old patients. It was then that I realized how significant the work of a physician could be, and the lasting impression that doctors and their patients leave on one another.
    My experiences in India, along with my years in medical school, have forged in me a strong desire to help the undeserved overseas. However, my experiences teaching children and being a youth leader at the First Baptist Church of Flushing have taught me that one need not travel to another country to find significant opportunities to serve. Though medical procedures were not necessary in this setting, I was given the opportunity to build relationships with, and thereby speak into the lives of young children and teenagers transitioning into adulthood. Similar to a physician with his patients, my purpose as a youth leader was to build trusting relationships with these young men and woman and equip them to make choices in their own best interest. I taught my fourth-graders the importance of being active and minimizing time spent playing video games, and the high-school group openly shared personal struggles as we discussed peer pressure, substance abuse and protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections. They believed what I had to say, not only because I was in the process of becoming a doctor, but because they knew that I truly cared for their health and well-being. In the future, I wish to continue providing young people with the knowledge they need to remain healthy, and hope to impart that prevention is far better than treating the permanent sequelae of a once avoidable illness.
    Though treating children and adolescents in my medical practice is a definite goal of mine, I also wish to help the older population optimize their care and better manage their chronic illnesses. Personal experience has shown me that there is much wisdom to be gained from those more advanced in their years. My grandfather has been blind since he was six months old. It was not congenital condition or a medical illness, but a hasty decision made by a village medicine-woman that claimed my young grandfather’s sight. At that time, the disabled in India were considered inferior, denied education and forced to resort to begging for money. Defying all odds, my grandfather was one of the first blind people in India to attend a college and later become a professor of English literature. Though he never had issues with his health, my grandfather suffered a heart attack on August 3rd, 2010. I received the phone call from my mother while my friends were treating me to a birthday dinner. This time, the doctors who came to his aid helped save his life. As he wheeled out of the Cath lab, he reminded my grandmother to wish me a happy birthday on his behalf. It was the best present that I could have received. After spending a few rough weeks in and out of the hospital, my grandfather is once again back to normal, and now looks to me for guidance on maintaining his health. For as long as I can remember, it was my grandfather teaching me and providing me with encouragement. I can now finally do the same for him. For this reason, I feel that being trained to treat adults and geriatric patients, along with children and adolescents, would make me a well-rounded physician and would equip me to serve entire communities, anywhere in the world.
    Having explored the various specialties of medicine while on clinical rotations, I found that I enjoyed some aspects of every field, but the only specialty that would allow me to use my past experiences and foster my aspirations for the future is undoubtedly Family practice. Becoming a family doctor would provide me with everything that I had been searching for. I will have the opportunity to build relationships and grow with my patients, to be able treat people in all stages of life, as well as utilize the osteopathic manipulation skills that I have been taught. I know that family medicine is the field where I will find the most satisfaction and be able to better serve my patients.
    As with any philosophy, certain themes tend to recur while studying medicine at an osteopathic institution. One principle that resonates with me is the exhortation to view each patient as a whole person, rather than merely focusing on the disease that they present with. A good doctor must take into account all aspects of a patient’s life and treat the cause of those symptoms, not the symptoms alone. With this new perspective, I now know that I was wrong in thinking that the doctor distributing eyeglasses was doing the most significant work in Reynosa. By building a house, I was meeting a family’s physical need for shelter, just as the singers at the church were meeting the villager’s needs for spiritual support and emotional comfort. I realize now that all the work being done was equally significant and necessary to improve the health of the village as a whole. We were integrally treating causes of sickness and disability, and helping to prevent healthy people from falling ill. We were all, in our own way, doing the work of physicians.