Aaron Tabor, a 2009 graduate of Elmhurst and a fourth-year student at Rush Medical College, is preparing to leave later this spring for Impfondo, Republic of Congo, where he will work as a volunteer at a hospital.
This is his sixth such service trip to the central African nation.
But as much as Tabor believes in the value of such work, he knows that his individual efforts could never make a great enough difference in a world where so many lack access to health care. That’s why a year ago, Tabor launched Make a Change International, a service organization that links medical students and health care professionals with service opportunities overseas.
“I’ve always liked doing service work, but I realized that it was important to do something that was bigger than just me, something that would multiply individual efforts,” said Tabor. “We want to create opportunities and create change.”
In less than a year, Make a Change International has helped send 20 medical students on short-term service trips to destinations as far flung as Haiti, India, the Philippines and the Republic of Congo. The students worked in hospitals and clinics, some helping to provide basic care, others working in surgical and specialized settings. The group has raised $14,000 to support its efforts.
Tabor’s goals for the organization he founded are more ambitious still. He talks of creating a network of care-providers and institutional partners, and establishing a database of opportunities for health-care professionals interested in providing service where it is needed. He hopes to establish scholarships and other funding to make it easier for medical students to participate.
“Ultimately, we want to be in this for the long term,” he said. “Some organizations are great at providing relief work, then leaving. We want to go beyond that and provide sustainable options. We want to improve health care for the long term in these countries.”
Tabor developed an interest in international service while he was growing up in Lyons. While he was still in grade school, as part of a service project with the organization Samaritan’s Purse, he began corresponding with a boy his age in Malawi. The correspondence lasted for years, Tabor said, and provided him with glimpses of a world he would not have otherwise known.
At Elmhurst, Tabor worked on service projects with Alpha Epsilon Delta, the health preprofessional honor society, and in 2006 was part of a group of students that traveled to El Carmen, Mexico, to help establish a medical clinic. He was shocked to encounter people there who had been waiting years for care.
“There was such great, desperate need of health care,” Tabor said. “People were so grateful that we were there. We can send supplies, send money, but it means something to people when you actually come and live with them. It shows that you really care.”
As a medical student, Tabor came to appreciate Rush’s emphasis on service, both close to home in Chicago’s neediest neighborhoods, and around the world.
“Sometimes as a student, it’s hard to connect what you’re learning to real people. It’s easy to forget why you’re in medical school,” Tabor said. “Service reminds you that you’re doing this to serve people.”
Make a Change International’s officers include Mark Aloisio, a 2009 Elmhurst graduate who serves as the organization’s vice president. Even as Tabor prepares to go overseas again, he is also awaiting his residency assignment, and hoping for a placement in emergency medicine. He said he requested the specialty in part because its irregular hours would allow him to focus some attention on the service organization he founded.
“Medicine really is a kind of service,” he said. “We’re providing a unique opportunity to bring medical aid to people who wouldn’t have access otherwise. This is a passion for me.”