Dr. Saravia

The Importance of Community in Global Health

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Background and Path to Global Health and UCSD


Dr. Paula Saravia's path began when she attended college at the University of Chile where she took a class on medical anthropology and fell in love with the subject and wanted to work in this type of field. After taking her professors’ advice to work in the real world for a little bit before thinking about graduate school, she interned at the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Carribean where she did some fieldwork, research on social capital, and worked on development projects. After a while, she got tired of analyzing the world and not conducting applied research because it made her feel a bit empty since she felt that she wasn’t contributing enough to improving the world or doing work with communities. As a result, she decided to look for another job which led her to Servicio País that focused on community service where teams of professionals were formed to do applied working municipalities. 


During her time at this job, she went to live in a small town in the center of Chile called Maule. She worked on developing projects with the communities where the projects didn’t have a direct focus on health. However, from the analysis in the data she collected, she realized that everything has to do with health and wellbeing. Many of these communities were not only financially stricken, but also suffering from issues like domestic violence and mental health problems. She realized that these development programs weren’t sustainable, and decided to move into working with medical research that she felt she can somehow control.


This led her and her husband to search for graduate programs abroad because many of her professors in the University of Chile were trained in Europe. When her husband came to UCSD  as a graduate student, she was able to experience what UCSD had to offer. She went to every single seminar and conference and went to Geisel everyday which all made her super happy. As she got more involved in UCSD, she decided that she wanted to go deeper into her medical anthropology training, so she applied to a masters program at UCSD. However, she had also applied to a masters program in Sweden where she was admitted and given a very generous scholarship for two years, so she deferred her admission to UCSD to a PhD program.


Overall, she feels super lucky and glad to be teaching at UCSD. She enjoys helping and mentoring her students to achieve their dreams in terms of global health. She also appreciates the community here as it has helped her grow a lot.


Dr. Saravia taught GLBH 148 and GLBH 150A in Winter 2021. In Spring 2021, she taught GLBH 150B and was thrilled to be teaching GLBH 142 which is a class on clinical ethnography. In GLBH 142, students are introduced to ethnography as a strategy to conduct research on clinical contexts. Students also will learn about the ethnographic method, and how both qualitative research and ethnography may be utilized in healthcare and medical education


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Current Research


Dr. Saravira’s current research is on the relationship between social justice and environmental precarity and its impact on the mental health of indigenous communities in Northern Patagonia. Individuals in these communities suffer from many environmental threats and disasters such as wildfires, floods, and volcanos, especially the elderly population in this region who suffer from disproportionate levels of depression and anxiety. She is currently working with three undergraduate researchers, Sifat Alam, Caroline de Ocampo, Mahoko Kimura, to conduct literature reviews, build a timeline of disasters and events, observe participants, and hold in-depth interviews.


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Global Health Issue that She Feels is One of the Most Pressing and Necessary for Our Generation to Work Towards Solving


Dr. Saravia thinks that the most pressing global health issue for our generation to solve is the interaction between environmental health and global health. Human interaction with the environment has caused climate change, human displacement, environmental refugees, and emerging diseases, so it is important for us to start looking at that.


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Advice for Students


Dr. Saravia invites global health students to talk to one another and help each other, especially transfer students who are interested in global health topics and would like to know more. She suggests joining Students for Global Health on campus to be a part of a community. She also advises that there are ways to work together with other people to fight inequalities and social injustice to improve our world. In addition, she wants students to take advantage of the fact that the Global Health faculty, coordinators, and staff are all here to support the students.


Thank you to Dr. Saravia for sharing your passion with Global Health Students, and for your dedication to the Global Health Program over the years!