Alison Coll vaccinates a Nicaraguan child.
May 29, 2009
A self-described “premed since age 11,” Northeastern health sciences major Alison Coll has built a body of medical knowledge in Central America, India, and Africa, as she works her way toward medical school.
In Nicaragua, Coll often shared the dusty road with pigs, goats and chickens. Armed with a cooler filled with tetanus and polio vaccines, she set out on foot every day to inoculate Nicaraguan children and families. “People were so grateful that they’d send us away with bags of fruit,” she says.
The health sciences major volunteered on co-op with Centro de Salud, a health clinic in Jinotepe, Nicaragua. In addition to administering vaccines, Coll worked at the clinic, which was government-sponsored and offered free medical care. She cared for patients with chronic illnesses, such as hypertension and diabetes.
What got her there? Coll has considered herself a “premed” since she was 11, inspired by her physician father who has since died. “When I would see him running off in seeming superhero fashion to try to save a life, it was amazing,” she says. “He definitely sparked the interest I have in medicine.”
That interest has grown into a strong body of medical knowledge through her Northeastern academics and international experiences, which Coll said are paving her path to medical school.
After classes ended last year, Coll augmented her studies with a summer program in India. There, she learned nontraditional homeopathic medicine, massage and color therapy.
South Africa 2007
Coll hadn’t considered pediatrics before a six-month co-op in the burn unit of Cape Town Red Cross Children’s Hospital in South Africa; now, she says, she has “opened her heart to it.” She was involved in research on bacterial infection in patients with hot-water burns.
“We were studying the bacteria in the wound and whether it would lead to severe scarring of the skin,” Coll explains. “The work was pretty intense. We’d see these beautiful babies with horrible scars on their faces, where hot water had splashed them.” Babies burned by hot water were a common sight. Many families lived in one-room dwellings, where cooking and sleeping took place within feet of each other. It was not unusual for babies to pull on the cords of electric kettles, says Coll.
With each new international experience, Coll stays focused on her goal. A minor fear of flying isn’t enough to stop her as she takes off for each new destination. When the airplane lifts off, she explains. “I just surrender myself to the forces in life and go with it.”