My struggles made me highly motivated, persistent, consistent, and resilient - Luthfi's story

Luthfi, a PhD student at LSHTM from Indonesia, had an accident that left her living in a wheelchair. She shares with us how she has overcome these challenges by advocating for herself and speaking up about her needs.
Luthfi Azizatunnisa'

Tell us about your academic journey before you joined LSHTM?

For my undergraduate degree, I studied medicine at the Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Sebelas Maret (UNS), Surakarta, Indonesia. I had an accident in my last year that left me living in a wheelchair, so I could not continue my training to become a medical doctor. Then I continued my master’s degree in public health at the Faculty of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Yogyakarta, Indonesia, with a scholarship from Tropical Disease Research (TDR).

What barriers would you say you have you faced during your education?

Talking about the barriers I faced, it’s actually quite complex but mainly physical barriers. Back then, I was not an independent wheelchair user. I needed someone to push my chair all the time because my wheelchair was not a good fit for me and was too heavy, as I couldn’t afford a good-fit wheelchair which was quite expensive. During my studies in Indonesia, I had to move from one building to another. Therefore, I had to be accompanied by my guardian almost all the time. Furthermore, the building and environment were not wheelchair friendly, as only a few buildings had ramps, lifts, disabled toilets, etc. I vividly remember when my mom helped me go to the 3rd floor by the stairs by doing a human crutch because there were no lifts in the building. In addition, the absence of a learning agreement made me struggle to keep up with all the learning activities. No one discriminated against me, but I felt excluded whenever I had to attend events (e.g., classes, seminars, lectures) held in locations or ways or methods without adequate facilities for disabled people.

Luthfi and her friends outside the LSHTM entrance
Luthfi and her friends outside the LSHTM entrance

What advice would you give to help someone overcome a similar challenge?

I would say, we have to advocate ourselves. We need to speak up about our unaccommodated and unmet needs. Often, it’s not that people do not want to help us; they just do not know how to help us. Therefore, we need to tell them. However, we have to be reasonable. Demanding our rights does not mean that we can ask for anything. I personally do not want to be perceived that I am burdening and demanding.

Explain your research topic in one sentence.

My study evaluates the needs, coverage, and acceptability of health insurance among people with disabilities in Indonesia.

How did you apply for your research degree? 

I contacted my supervisor and showed her my research proposal on healthcare access amongst people with disabilities in Indonesia, but after a discussion with her, the proposal was changed to focus more on health insurance.

How did you make your application stand out from other applicants?

I had been in contact with my supervisors before submitting my application. I prepared my research proposal based on my discussion with them. They would review my draft and then I revised it several times. Regarding my personal statement, I asked numerous experienced colleagues to proofread my draft and then I revised it based on their feedback. As for the interview, I asked alumni for advice and I practised my interview with them.

How have the barriers you’ve faced shaped your academic and personal development?

My struggles have shaped me to become a highly motivated, persistent, consistent, and resilient individual both in my academic and personal life.

How are you finding your research so far?

Initially, I never dreamed of becoming a researcher; I hated research. However, after changing my academic direction from medicine to public health, I started enjoying research and found myself happiest when writing and doing research. Now, my interest and focus are on disability and healthcare access, something that I personally experience and connect with, and I am really passionate about it.

Luthfi during a presentation
Luthfi during a presentation

What are your plans after your research degree?

Before enrolling in this programme, I had been working as a faculty member at a university in Indonesia. I did research and teaching. After completing my PhD, I will return to my institution to continue my work as an academic and researcher.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for your course at LSHTM?

Apply to LSHTM now! LSHTM is the best school to study public health because it offers a wide range of topics and expertise, produces high-impact research worldwide, hosts world-renowned researchers, and is inclusive. Reach out to alumni or students if you want to prepare your application. For those with disabilities, you do not have to worry. The School upholds the equity and inclusiveness values and will be very keen to assist you during your study.