2023 Ignatian Hoya Recipient
Amrita Bonthu is from Miramar, Florida. Before coming to Georgetown Biomedical Graduate Education, she earned a B.A. in Medical Anthropology and Gerontological Studies from Case Western Reserve University.
What community service activity has meant the most to you?
An influential volunteer experience for me was with a nonprofit in India. This volunteering experience affected me deeply and is the reason I studied gerontology in my undergraduate coursework.
The mission of the nonprofit was to empower the underprivileged elderly to live their lives with dignity. I volunteered to work as an interviewer at a village whose name translates to “village among the trees.” My role was to stay in the village and talk to older adults, to scope out their general lives as well as their troubles and transcribe them into English in order for the organisation to reach out for international sponsorship. As I spent time with the elderly, I realised that there were common sentiments such as that their lives felt meaningless, that they were burdens, and that they were worried that medical expenses would soon outweigh their small funds.
I strongly desire to find effective ways in which to help older adults, especially underprivileged older adults, to live their lives with dignity.
What motivates you?
Growth motivates me. It’s part of why I love dance so much: I can very easily track the growth and improvement over time. I feel that being growth-oriented is far more powerful than being result-oriented because one can value improvement over perfection. I came to the IMHS program in beliefs that I could push myself to grow intellectually, emotionally, and professionally, and I am excited to see who I will be at the end of it.
What do you want to do after earning your degree?
I am planning on attending medical school in July at the Case Western School of medicine. I want to be a physician who treats patients holistically and who is open to new ways of thinking and healing. I believe that death is not always a failure in medicine: Instead, it takes courage to recognise when to draw the line and prioritise a life worth living. I nurtured that interest in college through my interdisciplinary gerontology coursework and in the future, I am enthusiastic to explore topics at the intersections of aging and holism such as the benefits of mind-body medicine on the experience of menopause, and how meditation/yoga/dance can help create spaces for positive emotions for older adults grappling with life-changing health diagnoses. I am passionate about learning as well as teaching, and I aspire to help shift the culture of medicine towards holistic listening, storytelling, and healing.
What led you to pursue graduate studies?
I chose to pursue the IMHS program due to my experience in an ashram becoming a 200-hour certified yoga instructor in the summer of 2021. Through my anthropology classes, I studied ethnomedical healing systems such as Ayurveda. Nothing compares to living it. The training involved following the five propers – relaxation, breathing, exercise, diet, and positive thinking- disciplining the body to be nimble, the mind to be calm, and the heart to be open.
My conversations with people in the ashram reinforced my resolution towards this path: a veteran who was suffering from visceral manifestations of PTSD, a woman who was a drug addict and turned to spirituality for salvation, and the yogi who in his twenties was told by a physician that he would never recover from his hospital-bound condition, yet at 78 was sitting in Padmasana for hours, back perfectly straight. My shadowing journal thus continued in an environment that starkly contrasted to the sterile, homogenous, and carefully controlled environment of the hospital.
On the first day I was able to correctly “drink a yogi’s cup of coffee” (hold a shoulderstand), I realized how adaptable our bodies are. In the ashram, I experienced my first inklings of metamorphosis: asanas I didn’t believe myself capable of, such as the crow or the headstand, I progressed towards with every attempt. I overcame the antsiness of meditation and found myself thinking and acting mindfully. Whenever I experienced a breakthrough, the fulfillment eclipsed any of the discomfort or soreness of striving.