MD/MPH student Labika Baral’s Study Abroad Experience

Labika Baral stands outside of her internship site.
Labika Baral at the Infectious and Communicable Diseases Hospital in Nepal.

by Heather Duncan

ALBANY, NY (April 25, 2024) - Many students who enroll in public health graduate programs hope to take advantage of study abroad opportunities to explore how the global community addresses health challenges. Labika Baral, a student in the dual MD/MPH program, was determined to make her study abroad dreams a reality when she enrolled. Today she is in the process of completing an internship in Pokhara, Nepal with the Infectious and Communicable Diseases Hospital (ICDH) under the Ministry of Social Development and Health for Gandaki Province. 

The focus of Baral’s internship is on evaluating the implementation of the electronic medical record (EMR) system in the ICDH and in hospitals throughout the Gandaki Province, which is located in central Nepal. As a developing nation with limited infrastructure, electronic and online health record systems are a fairly recent addition to the health care system and are still undergoing testing. Baral’s project will aid in the development of EMRs in the province and ultimately the nation. 

Labika and her mentors in front of a hospital in Nepal.
During her internship, Baral visited hospitals in the province to assist in evaluating the implementation of electronic medical record systems. Here she is at Damauli hospital!

Baral did not choose Nepal by happenstance. She has personal connections to the country that motivated her to want to work on improving its public health system. 

“I have family here in Nepal, so I am living with them while I complete my internship. Getting to spend time with everyone, especially my little cousins, nieces, and nephews, has been a wonderful opportunity,” says Baral. “I believe there is so much work to be done at the public health level to better the health of our global community. There are so many people in Nepal and around the world with preventable illnesses. The hope that we can decrease these preventable illnesses and provide a better understanding of health to people both on a local and global scale is very motivating.” 

In addition to evaluating the implementation of EMRs, Baral is also engaged in qualitative research. 

She explains, “I have been interviewing hemodialysis patients at the hospital to learn about their experiences and conducting research on the public health and health care system in Nepal. At the same time, I have also been learning about hospital leadership and administration in the context of a different set of challenges than we face in the U.S.” 

The hemodialysis ward where Labika conducted a portion of her internship.
The hemodialysis ward where Baral conducted a portion of her internship.

Reflecting upon her experience so far, Baral believes that the most valuable aspect of her internship has been seeing the principles, methods and concepts she learned through her UAlbany coursework applied in a real-world setting. Witnessing the intersection of medicine and public health in a hospital setting has also offered unique learning opportunities. 

“A lot of the tasks and considerations for running the hospital require systems thinking,” Baral explains. “I feel incredibly passionate and connected to public health through this experience and I believe it has been the most important part of my MPH degree. Public health is best learned through hands-on practice, so it has been truly powerful to get a glimpse of health care and public health in Nepal, and the opportunity to improve the skills I will need to grow as a public health professional.” 

Baral also cautions that planning an internship abroad has its challenges. Setting up her internship in Nepal took diligence, persistence, and required her to leverage the network of connections UAlbany has access to. Baral was assisted by the Center for Global Health under the International Internship Program. 

“The entire process required a considerable amount of effort, support, and work. You need to plan ahead. Looking back, I am glad that I didn’t give up after initially hitting some dead ends. I believe that transformational opportunities do not come easily, but if you keep trying and stay motivated your hard work will pay off. I am thankful to my advisors, Brenda Kirkwood and John Justino, for helping me with securing and finalizing this internship. I am also extremely thankful to my mentor Dr. Bikash Gauchan and the entire team at ICDH for welcoming me and making this a rewarding experience.”