Student Doctor Without Borders

From Ghana to Turkey to Hartford, Deniz Vatansever is on a medical mission for children.

In the summer of 2009, Trinity senior Deniz Vatansever  returned to his native Bursa, Turkey, to set up a medical clinic at the same kind of underfunded public primary school he attended as a child.  With $2,500 from a Trinity Student-Initiated Research Grant (SIRG) and an additional $1,000 from the College’s Center for Urban & Global Studies, Vatansever organized a major effort, enlisting local medical students to conduct comprehensive health screenings for 500 schoolchildren and constructing a permanent nurse’s office—the first of its kind at a Bursa public school—stocked with medical supplies.
“The students had a lot of problems with dental issues and their body mass index was lower than the standards established by the World Health Organization,” says Vatansever, whose pre-med experience at Trinity includes an academic internship at the neurosurgery division of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center as part of the Trinity Health Fellows Program. Health Fellows like Vatansever spend 30 hours a week at one of several Hartford hospitals working one-on-one with physicians in a clinical and research capacity.
A neuroscience major, Vatansever first conceived of the DocDoors project while spending the summer after his freshman year in Ghana volunteering at the Ayisatu Owen International School, a primary school created by Trinity graduate James B. Mattison ’99. Vatansever received a Trinity travel grant to work for two months at the rural school where students suffered from a multitude of treatable medical conditions. He couldn’t help comparing the lack of basic school health programs in Ghana to the situation in his native Turkey.
“I have to do something about this,” he told his mother the next time he was home in Bursa. Vatansever knew he would have to start small and that he needed a clear plan to succeed. He drew out a three-stage project: 1) Conduct health screenings with help from medical students at the University of Uludag and analyze the results; 2) Educate students, teachers, and parents on basic hygiene and nutrition; 3) Build a permanent medical clinic at the school for follow-up screenings.
Based on his detailed proposal, Trinity supplied the grant money to pay for all aspects of the program. When the doors opened at the clinic, the mayor of Bursa attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and Vatansever was featured on Turkish national news. Vatansever didn’t rest on this success, but set out to lobby local and national officials on the critical importance of child health care.
“My intention was to spread the word and work to create a model for other schools to copy what we did,” Vatansever says.
A swimmer and athlete as a child, Vatansever suffered from frequent ear infections and more than his share of broken bones and sprains. It was during one of his regular visits to the hospital that he first thought about becoming a doctor. 
“I wanted to become someone who could help others with their medical needs, because I had a lot of them myself,” says Vatansever, who has never forgotten what it’s like to grow up in a country where routine medical checkups are rare and curable childhood medical conditions often go unchecked and untreated.
Following graduation, Vatansever will be living in England while pursuing a master’s degree in neuroscience. After that, he plans to enroll in medical school in the United States, where he hopes to specialize in neurosurgery or psychiatry.  After all, his official career as a helper and a healer hasn’t even begun.