A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Cody Osborn. This 20-year-old student attends the University of Southern California and is pursuing a double major in Biology and French. Currently, he’s studying in France.
I think you’ll find, as I did, that Cody is wise beyond his years. His dedication to medicine is evident and I’m excited about how he can make a difference for those suffering from cancer in the years to come.
Deborah: Tell me about your experience in Ghana this summer.
Cody: It started in the end of May. It was a ten-day experience all in all. It’s one of those things where you don’t really realize how distant it is until you arrive there. You fly 10 hours to London from LA. Lay over there for a day maybe and you fly to Accra, which is the capitol of Ghana. And once you get there, which is another seven-hour flight from London, mind you, it’s like a three-four hour drive to the lodge we stayed at. Every day we would also commute another 20-30 minutes to the village, which was nothing in comparison.
You realize how far away you are and how distant you are from the norm and your every day. It gets you in that spirit of what you are doing there—that you aren’t doing something that is everyday, you are doing something that is very extraordinary, something very special. It definitely felt like that. It was a strong learning experience for me. It gave me a feeling of the environment a doctor would be in, even in these areas with less supplies than normal. It still feels like a professional doctor would, I imagine.
D: What group were you traveling with?
C: The Global Medical Brigades. They have other trips as well. Honduras and Ghana are the two biggest trips. It was a USC-affiliated trip.
D: Were you traveling with others?
C: There were 11 others in my group. There were other groups from different universities and colleges at this lodge that we were staying at. They had groups as big as 53. We were definitely considered a small group.
D: What kind of work were you doing on a day-to-day basis?
C: It changed. The first few days we were setting up camp. Counting all our pills, our medication, organizing it all into the separate stations. We were there for four days of work and you would rotate around every day. Some days you’d be on triage where you’d be taking blood pressure, vitals. Some days you might just be shadowing a doctor and giving prescriptions, because we had two US physicians as well as two Ghanan physicians. You might be working with the dentist and actually performed a couple tooth extractions, which was pretty exciting. And then there was pharmacy where you’d be filling the actual prescriptions and sending them out. Those were usually our day-to-day tasks.
D: What do you think you’ve learned from this experience?
C: It’s definitely been a career-affirming trip. I’ve definitely found what I’m passionate about in the science of medicine over any science. It’s this aspect of helping another person through the usage of a science, not just talking about theoretical events, which I’ve come to find a lot of sciences are. And that’s what was the big factor, just being in that real setting and getting that rush or that feeling I was chasing.
D: Have you ever done anything like this before?
C: Not in the sense of volunteering in a foreign country. I have been in hospital settings.
D: Was there anything in particular that you took away from the culture or the people you interacted with in Ghana?
C: They are very warm and open, which is really nice to see. I could see how it would be hard to be in a good mood if you live in a country that’s very impoverished—low on resources, high in disease. I could see how it would be easy to have a crappy day. They were all so friendly and warm and thankful for what they did have. That was a good reminder about how to live your life here in a normal society that functions and is clean and safe, thankfully.
Perhaps another would be to really take care of the land. In Ghana, they don’t really care about recycling or proper disposal of waste. They don’t seem to care about it as much. You’d be standing there and all of a sudden someone would drop a piece of trash. You don’t know what to say because you don’t want to be rude. At the same time, why do that? Why not just contain it all? I feel like this needs to happen for true progress to be made in this kind of country. I think it’s really important that they make some progress in that direction.
D: Did you do any other kind of volunteering before this experience?
C: I volunteer at a local research clinic on USC’s campus. I volunteer my time there as a research assistant.
D: I see the work you’re doing as philanthropy. How would you define philanthropy yourself?
C: I don’t want to say it’s selfish, because that’s too extreme. A lot of people look at philanthropy as a way to bring the karma back in their direction. I guess I’d put it that way. They feel like it’s good and thus that makes them a good person. I feel like it’s something you should want to do. Just the fact that you have the capabilities that others don’t. Not because you’re necessarily born with more athleticism or a better immune system, it’s just that you’ve been born into a better area. You’ve been born into a better society and that’s just by the luck of the draw. It’s as simple as that. You just got luckier in the genetic selection of where you were born. Because of that we should recognize that and truly be grateful for that. I think a true recognition of being grateful is actually doing something to help others who just weren’t as lucky as you.
D: Are there other ways you’re engaging in philanthropy?
C: It’s hard to find the extra time sometimes…I find that the pursuit of becoming a doctor is an act of philanthropy in a way. More than anything than becoming a doctor I want to get involved deeply in oncology, the study of cancer, and research how to stop it. To me, philanthropy doesn’t necessarily have to be “we’re going to this place and giving our services for free.” Perhaps a philanthropic action can just be finding something that just betters the world in a way. Perhaps discovering a technology that could end world hunger or cancer. That would touch so many lives in such a positive way. That’s something I want to pursue now.
D: I love that perspective because I like to remind people that philanthropy really means “love of humankind.” It’s not about money necessarily. And any way we can express our love of humankind is philanthropy. You’re expressing that through your desire to help people with cancer. That’s really beautiful.
C: It may not seem like I’m doing work for someone else because I’m in a room studying or in a lab looking through a microscope. And everyone is saying “you’re not out there helping.” It’s kind of one of those things that to make a big change you have to put a lot of work into it. The effects of that aren’t necessarily evident from the get-go or until the culmination of that work, which can be hard for some people to stick through and say, “that person is philanthropic.” Some people won’t say that because they don’t see the immediate results.
D: Great point. Who influences you in your philanthropy and how have they influenced you?
C: I can’t really say that I draw my passion for medicine and the act of helping others from someone else. I feel like it’s something I’ve found throughout life….I’ve changed a lot throughout my life and made these discoveries here and there, picked it up piece by piece. Those are the things that have made me want to become a doctor.
I’ve realized that I’m very much a pacifist. I’ve always seen fights brewing at school for whatever reason and I’ve never thought, “oh, that’s a good idea, that will get it taken care of.” That discovery in particular, that violence is not the answer, has been one of the things to influence my love of medicine and wanting to get involved in it.
D: These discoveries that you’re talking about—have they been through school, family, friends, or other experiences?
C: Probably a combination of all of them really. It’s really when you go through certain things that you make these discoveries. My first real relationship was with my boyfriend, Jack. That was really interesting, because there’s a lot of things to deal with, not just because it’s my first relationship, but because it isn’t a typical relationship by most people’s standards, because it’s between two boys. There’s just a lot to deal with. So that was definitely a learning experience, being in that relationship. I definitely learned how to keep another person in mind at all times, to be truly selfless and maybe compromising on things because it’s for the better. You don’t always have to be right. There’s just been tons of little things I’ve learned like that.
I don’t necessarily identify with a religion, but I definitely believe there’s some greater power out there. I just don’t necessarily have a face for it. I definitely believe there are certain ways to carry out your life that are for an ultimate, better karma in your life and better energy and a better inflow of energy. Like you attract certain people to you by emitting certain frequencies or wavelengths. I try and live my life by that and find a lot of these experiences or these discoveries lead to that good karma. It’s been a very interesting past two years. I’ve seen very drastic changes in the way energy comes into my life, people come into my life, good things come into my life.
D: What do you like best about giving in whatever way that you give? And how does it make you feel?
C: Most of the time I feel my volunteering is going to be in a medical setting or at least will require use of the sciences, medicine, etc. I like that because I’m doing something I’m interested in. So, right off the bat, it’s cool for me. I’m doing something that I genuinely like….I definitely like using medicine as a volunteer. It’s practice. It’s doing something I like and truly appreciate. I am SO excited for medical school, really excited. I think volunteering has helped me get there.
Other than that, obviously, it just feels good to see someone else having a better day because you did something. It just really makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something….Every life is a very significant thing, so just affecting one other person, that you may not necessarily even be able to communicate with, whatever the boundaries are that lie between you two, it’s still cool.
D: Everything we do has this ripple effect.
C: Absolutely.I think the most important thing is genuine intent though. When people really want to do this is when things start happening for the better.
D: What is your philanthropic dream?
C: Finding the cure to cancer would be a great start, at least something to control the cancer. That seems a little bit more realistic in the time frame. It seems like they have. It seems like they’re on their way there….Any major disease that is causing a major outbreak of deaths seems like the one to go after because it’s taking the most people away from us. As a population, that should be our biggest goal, our biggest target. So, that would be really exciting….That would be interesting—doing something that’s good for other people and it’s also sparking your interest and strikes your fancy.
D: Anything else you want to add?
C: Africa might be a little daunting because it’s so far and expensive. There’s a lot of places you can go. I don’t want people to get discouraged because of distance or things like that. Helping anyone is good. If you can’t go to a Third World country, that’s all right, start with your local community. Just volunteer. Any and all will help.
I loved Cody’s additional thoughts…start where you are. I recently wrote about starting to give NOW in any way. Let Cody’s words be an inspiration to you, whether you want to volunteer in your community or abroad.