Introducing Sebastian Ochoa Guzman, LSHTM Fund Scholar 2024

Sebastian Ochoa Guzman, with other MSc students

What course are you studying at LSHTM, and why did you choose this course?

I am currently studying for my Master's in Public Health in London. I have been interested in Public Health since working in the public sector in my country, Ecuador, and seeing the inequalities in global access to health. I found LSHTM when searching for the best places in the world to learn about this field.

What are you passionate about, and why?

In the field of medicine, I love to work in the operating room, and I hope I might become a surgeon one day. I also have a passion for education, especially medical education, as I spent a lot of time during my medical degree teaching different subjects to younger medical students. Finally, in the field of Public Health, I feel a passion for politics. A good leader can make significant positive changes in policies to improve health. If I summarise my passions, I might say that I am passionate about serving others, especially those most in need.

Can you tell us a bit more about your life and experiences?

I’ve spent most of my life living in Guayaquil, one of the largest cities in Ecuador and the nation's economic capital and main port. As a child, I lived for two and a half years in Santiago, Chile, while my father was training to be a doctor, with my mother, father and my three siblings (two sisters and one brother). I went to high school and medical school in Guayaquil, where I made my best friends. During medical school, I was involved in teaching and politics and took leadership positions most of the time. As an adolescent and young adult, I became involved in the Catholic religion and had some of my most life-changing spiritual experiences. I got to know God and get closer to spirituality; I participated in many services that helped me understand the realities of the most in-need people in my country. I understood the importance of living with them and trying to give them my help, although, in truth, I also felt I benefitted from this enormously. This is one of the main reasons I decided to study medicine; I see this profession as a form of service to those in need that involves a deep connection with those who are unwell.

What were you doing before you came to LSHTM?

I graduated from medical school in 2019 and spent one year working as a doctor in a very poor rural town in the Ecuadorian Amazon called San Jose de Morona. I consider this experience my best ‘school’, where my love of public health started. In this photograph, you can see the other people in the boat (to my right) who were part of the healthcare team I worked with; a nurse, a doctor, and a dentist. In the photo, we were returning from providing healthcare to a community far from the health centre. We used the boat to travel to different communities that were too far to access health facilities, and our travels usually took 1 to 2 hours. I really loved that job.

Since then, I’ve been pursuing my area of specialism, preparing for exams, and researching different areas of medicine. I also worked as a surgical assistant with my father during this time. However, after failing my first attempt at specialising as a surgeon, I decided to adjust my course and direct my studies towards my passion for Public Health. That’s why I applied for this MSc, and it was the LSHTM Fund scholarship, supported by alumni and friends, that gave me the tools to achieve this goal. 

Sebastian returning from the Ecuadorian Amazon
Sebastian returning from providing community healthcare visits in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 2020 before coming to LSHTM

What led you to specialise in this field and your particular course?

Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world. I want to add that politics can also be your best weapon. Without good politicians, policies and leaders, making the huge structural changes in education and health (especially in the case of Public Health) that we need in countries such as Ecuador is very difficult. I also knew that to make those changes, I first had to learn, and I wanted to learn in the best place I could, so I decided to study Public Health here at LSHTM. I would not have been able to do this without the support of the LSHTM Scholarship Fund.

What were the barriers to you achieving your educational goals?

The first barrier I encountered in my country was the limited access to good quality education, often forcing people to look for opportunities abroad. This is where the most significant barriers appear. It is very competitive to study at international universities. Applying for a student visa isn’t always straightforward and is more complicated in certain countries such as Ecuador, so the economic cost of education increases enormously. However, scholarships like the LSHTM Scholarship Fund, also aimed at students from developing countries, helped me overcome all of these barriers.

What does this scholarship, and scholarships more generally, mean to you?

Unfortunately, education continues to be a privilege in Ecuador, and scholarships are a tool to reduce inequality caused by economic conditions. This enables young people to develop all their abilities without limits. I might go as far as to say that scholarships are an indispensable tool for the overall development of low- and middle-income countries.

For me, the LSHTM Fund Scholarship is a truly transformational gift which generates a deep feeling of gratitude and duty. Being supported in this way moves me to give back everything I have learned to society, particularly in low—and middle-income countries.

Have scholarships changed your life? If so, how?

The opportunity to study at one of the best universities in the world is already a very enriching experience. Another very important impact of scholarships is the opportunity to live in a new country and meet students from all over the world with different experiences. This diverse experience allows us to discover new cultures and new ways of understanding the world. I might describe this impact as; you are one person before you study at LSHTM, and quite a different person afterwards.

Why did you want to fundraise and run the Cambridge Half Marathon for LSHTM?

As one of the two LSHTM Fund Scholars this year, I was delighted to contribute to giving someone else the same opportunity that I had. When I heard that students, staff, alumni and friends were running a half-marathon for the LSHTM Scholarship Fund, I immediately contacted Sarah Enderby Coles, LSHTM’s Regular Giving Officer. I told her about my desire to help raise funds for this scholarship, and running the Cambridge Half Marathon was a great opportunity to do so! With the support and generosity of my friends, family and fellow LSHTM students and staff, combined with holding a fundraising cake sale at Keppel Street, I was able to exceed my fundraising target in just a fortnight.

Screenshot of Sebastian's JustGiving page
Screenshot of Sebastian's JustGiving page
Sophie, Sebastian and Yiggie after completing the Cambridge Half Marathon 2024
Sophie, Sebastian and Yiggie after completing the Cambridge Half Marathon 2024

What message would you like to share with the people who have supported your scholarship?

Receiving this scholarship has made me think about the power that our small actions can have to instigate big changes in other people's lives. I have nothing other than words of gratitude to all the people who have contributed and continue to contribute to this scholarship, and I encourage them to please keep doing so. Donations to the LSHTM Scholarship Fund are reflected not only in one person's career but in all the positive impacts on the health of others that their actions will bring throughout their career. 

Sebastian with fellow students at his cake sale to raise money for the LSHTM Scholarship Fund as part of his Cambridge Half Marathon Fundraising.
2023-2024 MSc students Adrian Koessler and Ana Bush and fellow Half Marathon runners Katie Fulford, Sophie Esnouf and Ashlyn Anderson support Sebastian (centre) to raise money for the LSHTM Scholarship Fund as part of his Cambridge Half Marathon Fundraising

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