Serving the Unserved

Alumnus and current M.B.A. student Ketan Patel founded Global Aid to help people who need medical treatment in the developing world.

January 04, 2010

By Menachem Wecker

A 2004 trip to India changed Ketan Patel's life. Now an M.B.A. student at GW, Mr. Patel, B.S. '08, hopes to share his extraordinary experience with other students.

Encouraged by his mother to accompany her on a trip to India the summer after his freshman year, Mr. Patel volunteered at hospitals helping raise funds for the uninsured. One day, he found himself standing in the operating room beside a surgeon treating a car accident victim.

"Have you ever drilled into a man’s head?" the surgeon asked him.

Mr. Patel, who grew up in New Jersey and was a bioengineering student at the time with no medical training, had, of course, never drilled into a man’s head before. But that was hardly the only experience at the hospital that made a tremendous impression on him and encouraged him to create the company Global Aid with his twin brother Kamal, B.S. '08, now a second-year GW medical student. 

A 23-year-old Indian woman was burned when the propane tank she was using to cook exploded. The woman lived in a very poor neighborhood, and though she was burned on a Friday, she could not get to the hospital until Monday. When she arrived, her burns were so severe and the smell so putrid that the nurses did not want to treat her. When they learned she had no insurance, they turned her out.

Mr. Patel asked the physician how the woman could be allowed to walk away. The doctor said the hospital would go bankrupt if it treated every patient who lacked insurance. When Mr. Patel realized the woman would probably die at a government-sponsored hospital because she could not pay about $2,000, he knew he had to do something.

Global Aid sets up internships for students interested in traveling to developing countries to help people like the young burn victim. “Interns will work side-by-side with health care professionals in medical settings to witness the disparities plaguing the health care sector,” according to Global Aid’s Web site. “The long term goal of Global Aid is to construct clinics in every location that lacks medical facilities to provide the local residents access to world-class service.”

All the members of the Global Aid staff are GW students. The other co-founders, twins Amit and Sumit Sood, both earned B.A. degrees from GW in 2009 and are first-year medical students. Noah Miretsky, Global Aid's chief strategy officer, is pursuing an M.B.A. at GW, and Meghan Cassin, creative director, is a senior at GW studying American studies and journalism.

Mr. Patel expects about 40 students, mostly from GW, to travel to Ratanpura, India, in May 2010 for a four-week internship. About 20 have already applied, he says. The nonprofit is also working to establish internships in Costa Rica and Brazil. Global Aid expects to launch its own clinic in India in 2012.

Mr. Patel, who will accompany the interns on the trip, will provide a “culture debriefing” before the trip. He will also be on hand to assist and advise the interns if they find themselves in uncomfortable situations, he says.

The interns will also have video cameras with them to document their experiences on blogs, Mr. Patel says. They will shadow physicians in infectious disease, obstetric-gynecology and psychiatric wards and emergency rooms, as well as nonprofit hospitals.

When he remembers his parents’ experiences coming to the United States with no English skills and no money and their persistence and hard work that allowed them to own and run a hotel business, Mr. Patel finds it easy to shrug off his own challenges. “I just study every day,” he says. “Is that that bad?” 

Comments? Criticism? The conversation continues. We welcome reactions, commentary and story recommendations on our Facebook page.