Bonnie Du is a third-year student at Dell Medical School. Driven to build health care systems that empower patients and providers alike, she’s using her Growth Year to pursue a Master of Arts in Design in Health.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve as a physician, and how did you come to recognize it?
In broad strokes, I see my future role as a physician as a means to an end. That larger end is improved health care access and equity.
While I was growing up with family members who depend heavily on the health care system, the idea of becoming a physician always lingered in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until a study abroad experience in Puebla, Mexico, that I realized the profound interconnectedness of social determinants and health outcomes. In being exposed to a foreign health care system, I was able to better analyze the American one.
I’ve come to see our health care landscape as a patchwork quilt of siloed solutions and that our system has become inaccessible, particularly for marginalized and disenfranchised communities. Whether it’s through sets of data or the patients in front of me, I witness the reality that communities of color have poor health outcomes and that the cost of health care remains prohibitive.
While I did not recognize it at the time, my understanding of medicine was inextricably linked to health-systems design thinking. My semester abroad in Mexico led me to a job at a free clinic in Indiana and eventually to Dell Med, where I’m being trained to analyze health care through a critical lens.
What makes you positioned to solve this problem of health care access?
Growing up in a border town in a diverse, nontraditional household, I have become intensely familiar with the gray areas where cultures intersect. I wasn’t aware of how this unique perspective shaped my outlook until I was removed from it. This context bred an affinity for complexity, so I pursued a liberal arts education in college.
Now, my background drives my education in design. My program focuses on a human-centered approach to the problems we face in health care, embracing the reality that humans are inherently multifaceted and messy.
A concept that we have anchored on so far in the program is that — with varying levels of thoughtfulness — every system, experience and product has been designed. Consequently, they can be redesigned. That mindset is incredibly empowering! Throughout this year and the many that will follow in my career, I aspire to have a hand in redesigning more equitable and accessible futures.
The New York Times asks readers to tell their “Tiny Love Stories” in just 100 words. What’s yours?
Frustrated by a fragmented health care system that serves few rather than many, I questioned how such wicked problems came to be.
This is my nascent manifesto: Design aims to understand the human condition and its problems in big and small ways — for individuals and entire communities. In that process, we challenge our notions of the norm and strive to uncover inequity. Our understanding, although inevitably imperfect, breeds empathy and an iteration of a potential solution. When that's not the solution, we always try again.