Nevada Medical Students Volunteer in Uganda via ARCH

“Ultimately the goal is for ARCH not to be needed there. To put ourselves out of business. Because that’s when you know you’ve solved rural health.”

Advocates for Rural Community Health (ARCH) brings medical school students abroad to address the shortcomings prevalent in rural health care. In addition to fixing short-term problems, ARCH ensures that the same practices can be continued once the medical students leave. ARCH’s latest project is bringing medical students from the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine to Uganda to volunteer in rural health clinics. I sat down with ARCH founder, Leissan Sadykova, to discuss her work to improve global health, starting in Gulu, Uganda. Leissan came up with the idea for ARCH while conducting research work in Uganda for her master’s degree.

From research to starting a non-profit

“Each health center sends statistics to the Gulu district health office. Statistics generally include tallies, vaccines, births, mothers (pre/post natal), diseases, and how many medicines were given out. The particular center we visited hasn’t been sending in statistics, so we went to figure out what was going on. Turns out, the person responsible for sending statistics wasn’t coming to work. Absenteeism is a major factor in rural health. In response, the health center was shut down for 2 hours for training. I’m like, cool, but there’s a queue outside and it’s only getting longer. Actually, I had to excuse myself because I couldn’t sit there and watch the people waiting outside anymore. There were children coughing. In my humble opinion, I don’t think shutting down a health center is the best way to train. That’s when I decided I’m going to medical school to become a physician and come back here. Then I thought, why should I wait until I go to medical school? There are plenty of capable medical students.”

Leissan Uganda
Leissan Sadykova with kids in Uganda

“When I first thought of the idea, I reviewed it with my host family to see if the community would be receptive of this or even need it. I got a lot of positive feedback, and still had a few weeks left of research time in Uganda. From there on, whenever I interviewed people, I put that plug in to see how community would feel about it.”

Rural health is continually difficult to address

“When I first came to Uganda, I felt like I knew the area because I did so much research on it beforehand for my master’s. I knew the history of Uganda, could tell you all the statistics on health, but that didn’t culturally translate. Living there was completely different. I actually got to talking to people and understanding more of the background of the government of Uganda. I remember leaving the area and feeling more confused than when I came in. The more I learned, the less I felt that I knew. I had to narrow my research down to Post Conflict Health Sector Development in the Gulu District. It was very specific, very small, just because there was so much going on that I didn’t expect. I came in with all these ideas, thinking I had all the background information. There’s so much to the story that I didn’t realize. I really wanted to makes sure my thesis spoke to the current status of the community when it came to health.”

“The trends are consistent with lack of workers, transportation, and lack of trust from the community to go to a health center. People in the villages don’t really know when they should go to a health center. Sometimes you have to walk hours to get to a health center. They don’t have ambulances or infrastructure.”

2017 Service Trip with University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) School of Medicine

UNR medical students always have an option to do rural or international credit. I started emailing people I knew and eventually met with the Dr. Kirk Bronander who facilitates international credit for students. We formed a partnership for UNR medical students to earn credit in Uganda. He’s never had anyone approach him before for an organization like this. We just started working together. There was a presentation for third year students doing international credit and this year we had four students commit to going.”

“ARCH keeps costs really low. Students only pay their flight to Uganda, vaccinations, and their Visa. As soon as they’re on the ground, ARCH covers everything for them: transportation, lodging, food, everything covered. We have host families who step up. They take care of food and lodging.”

“It’s really important for students to be with host families. Understanding the culture really helps them figure out what’s going on when they’re working at a health center and seeing patients. It helps them connect with their patients and be better doctors. The homestay is really central to our program, and that is different than other programs.”

Long-term vision for ARCH

“Ultimately the goal is for ARCH not to be needed there. To put ourselves out of business. Because that’s when you know you’ve solved rural health.”

Leissan handing out shoes, lollipops and stickers in Odek, Northern Uganda

“Long term, I want to have more country options for students. I do want this to be a national medical school opportunity. Every medical school in the nation, if their students want to go abroad, I want their students to get credit for it. And eventually, when the students are there, not only are they seeing patients and helping with the workload, but each student has to leave something behind that’s sustainable in the community. That can be whatever the student sees is needed. It has to be small obviously because they’re only there for four weeks. For example, a student could initiate a campaign to teach how long to boil water to prevent waterborne illnesses. It has to be done in a way that the community will understand.”

Advice for striving entrepreneurs

“First of all, have a solid mission that you believe in. That’s number one. Why are you doing it in the first place, what are you trying to accomplish? Pick one thing that you’re setting out to achieve or fix. From there, don’t waiver from that mission. Having a vision is so incredibly important. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to ask. Every ‘no’ gets you one step closer to a ‘yes’. If you have a solid mission, you believe in what you’re doing. Basically have a strong mission and don’t waiver from that mission ever. That’s what’s going to get you where you want to be.”

Supporting ARCH

“One of the things that sticks out to me through starting the organization is just asking people for help. There’s been a lot of support just from the Reno community alone. For example Juice Box Yoga partnered with me to do a two month fundraiser. I approached the city of Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve– she and the Vice Mayor sponsored the students. If I talk about this organization it really speaks to people.”

“The Reno community has been so supportive of this project. People can get involved in various ways. There is a Juice Box Yoga Karma Class every Wednesday, a wine tasting coming up in June, and we will have a donation page when our website goes up. People can donate, they can follow us on social media, and these next few weeks, we’re going to have a lot of content where people can see what we’re really doing on the ground.”

Connect with ARCH through their Facebook (Advocates for Rural Community Health), Twitter at @ARCHRuralHealth or through their email:  Website coming soon. All photos provided courtesy of Leissan Sadykova. 

2 comments on “Nevada Medical Students Volunteer in Uganda via ARCH

  1. Pingback: Giving back through yoga for ‘every body’ – Caminante

  2. Pingback: Uganda teaches Nevada medical students valuable lessons – Caminante

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