A Conversation with Robin Goldman | See previous interviews

Robin Goldman
Clinical Fellow

Robin Goldman

Tell me about your family. Have they been supportive of your path in Global Health?

I am from University Park, Maryland, and I grew up there, except for living in France for a year when I was nine years old. My father was a physician who worked for an HMO that allowed him a sabbatical and we went to Lille, France, which was a fairly formative time. I learned French, which has been very helpful in my work. I think their goal was to encourage exploring other cultures and in college was when I began traveling to other lower-resource countries. Other than occasional safety concerns, my family has been very supportive and they are happy that I am happy in my work. My younger brother is in the film industry and his most recent job was working with House of Cards; he since has gone back to school to study film.

You wrote in the Global Health Core, "One of the reasons I decided to go into medicine was the belief that good health is fundamental to being able to live a meaningful life beyond the daily struggle for existence …" Can you elaborate how your belief will propel you into your next endeavor?

When I decided to go into Medicine, as opposed to the Environmental Sciences, I was motivated by the fact that, if people are not healthy, it is hard to do other things: to work, to have a social life, to live. It is part of why the Global Health Fellowship was so appealing, as have been the organizations that the Heal Fellowship and I have worked with. There is a real emphasis and understanding that there is so much interaction between social factors and health, and social justice and health. Many people are sick because they are poor. We don't see this perspective everywhere in Medicine, so it has been rewarding to work with people who understand this. Going forward, I will be working part-time at the VA, at a community hospital affiliated with UCSF, and Zanmi Lasante, a sister organization to Partners in Health, about 25% of my time. I may be moving more into systems-based roles there instead of primarily clinical care.

Mother Teresa said, "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." What is the small thing that sustains you in your work?

Patient care. The small interactions with people that let me know they appreciate our work: appreciation for something I've done or an understanding of what we are trying to do. When people show that they are reassured by seeing you—that helps getting through all of the other frustrations such as limited resources within and outside of the hospital. Taking care of patients is always rewarding.

Was it difficult to learn how to communicate in Haitian Creole? Can you share an anecdote when a communication did not go quite as you hoped?

Yes! It was a double-edged sword for me because I speak French but it is different. Haitian Creole is actually one of the simplest languages; the grammar structure is simple, it is a "to the point" language. My patients didn't speak the French I speak, but the medical professionals do. When you think about full immersion in a language, it made it harder to learn Creole because I would fall back on French. In Haiti, there are slight differences in dialect and accent in different parts of Haiti; for example, in the South there is a Frenchified Creole and in the North, less so. There were times I would say something that I was sure was correct, yet a patient would only comprehend what I explained after the patient in the adjoining bed (in the wards, there is no privacy) repeated it to them. Only then would it dawn on the patient what I had said!

What is on your iPod? 

It changes a lot with the decade. I have a combination of music like grunge from the 1990s, which my teenage self identifies with, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana; Indy rock from the early 2000s and, because I studied in Senegal in college, so there is a mix of West African pop music. My choices become more random as I get older.

What was the first thing you wanted to do when you returned?

Usually eating, either a salad or sushi, things that I cannot have for months at a time. The first plan is what will be my first meal, or are we going to a wine bar, or tapas. I really like Haitian food, which includes non-ripe plantains, sort of like tostones, mashed and fried, plus rice, and beans, lots of different types of beans. In the mountains, meat is usually goat, chicken, and guinea fowl, which taste like dark-meat chicken. On the coast, conch and fish. Haitian food isn't super spicy but it is served on the side, not cooked into the food.

If you had a chance to interview your great-grandparents, what would you ask them? What would you like her to know about you?

On my dad's side, my great-grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe and Western Russia. I would ask what it was like to come to the United States and go through Ellis Island.

When you read, do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? What was the last book you read that made you rethink something you believed?

I wish I liked non-fiction more because it always seems so interesting, but I have to say that I want to be in a story. I want to feel that there is something that makes me turn the page, find out what happens next and takes me away from day-to-day reality. I've read Harry Potter, the Dragon Tattoo books, and classic fiction. A book I read most recently was "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who got lung cancer and wrote about his quest to understand human existence, how we cope with illness and death, and what makes life worth living.

Is there something other than Medicine that you consider both an art and a science? What professionals do you admire?

I feel that you could consider many professions as both art and science. I have a friend who is a computer guy and an artist, David Rueter, who takes data from various sources and creates art that makes statements. He took data of deaths of Iraq and turned it into a piece where light would emanate from different parts of a map of Iraq. His art is about conveying important things that help people see meaning where they might not otherwise, from a different perspective.

Have you last impressions of your time in Haiti?

What was striking throughout my time in Haiti is how proud Haitians are of being Haitians. They know that there is much that is negative about their government that makes international news, but they love their culture. They are proud of the fact that they were one of the first independent nations. They absolutely love their music, particularly this one specific type that is considered the national music, called "compas." There was a patient who was not at all doing well in the hospital who was prone and quite still when we left to tend to other wards. Another patient turned on a radio with compas music and we returned to find our previously non-responsive patient sitting up in bed and trying to dance! 

Best wishes to you, Robin. Thank you for sharing.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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