Uganda teaches Nevada med students valuable lessons

"I am a different physician, no, a different person now than I would have been had I never set foot in Gulu Regional Hospital."

ARCH is a nonprofit organization that enables medical students to conduct a medical rotation at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital located in Gulu, northern Uganda.

ARCH stands for Advocates for Rural Community Health. A few months ago, I interviewed their founder, Leissan Sadykova. Read that interview here.

That’s Leissan bungee jumping over the Nile River. Photo courtesy of ARCH

On their most recent service trip, the participating medical students from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) spent 4 weeks in Gulu. They worked in the clinics and visited schools to teach hand washing and wound care. All together, ARCH helped about 5,000 people. There were four medical students accepted to join the program: Robert Childs, Chris Kurnick, Cole Gross, and Jake Measom.

Nevada med
Nevada medical students attend to a patient in Uganda. Photo courtesy of ARCH.

At the start of the program, the medical students admitted feeling overwhelmed. Chris Kurnick remarked “The hospitality of the physicians and nurses was remarkable, doctors would interrupt patient interviews to greet and welcome us. But the working conditions of the hospital and the health of the patients were much more impactful and left us standing, faces absent of expression, wondering what we could possibly do to help these people who were so bad off.”

Yet, the medical students quickly adapted to their new working conditions as they each tested out different work placements to find where they fit in best.

As Robert Childs worked in the casualty- or emergency room- he observed “[Ugandans] prioritize relationships above personal interests. For example, when patients are admitted to the hospital, their families camp outside on the hospital grounds. Scattered everywhere were people cooking, hanging laundry on bushes, and sleeping on bamboo mats, all due to extreme love and loyalty to family. Their personal struggles and trials were almost insurmountable, yet they wore genuine smiles.”

Kids Uganda
A UNR medical student talks with kids in Uganda. Photo courtesy of ARCH

Another UNR med student, Jake Measom, reflected on his many “first time” moments of working at the clinic in Uganda.

“It was the first time I identified and treated malaria. It was the first time I stood in a ward dedicated to TB patients. It was the first time I tried to stop the gushing of blood in an HIV positive patient. It was the first time I worried about running out of gloves not even halfway through the day. More comically, it was the first time I saw someone put an entire tube of Colgate toothpaste on their road rash in an attempt to relieve the pain (it didn’t work).”

Unlike standard health practices in the United States, every day was a challenge with the limited resources of medical supplies and clinic staffing. The medical students were forced to learn ways to be creative with the limited supplies they had. Even with these added challenges, students couldn’t help but appreciate the dedication of the Uganda clinic staff.

Nevada medical students work alongside medical professionals in Gulu, Uganda. Courtesy ARCH

Cole Gross commented “These medical practitioners show up for work every day to a job that pays them very little and to an endless number of patients that they could never possibly finish. Yet, they do the best they can and without the luxuries of modern technology. They adapt and become creative with what they have in a setting with almost no resources.”

Robert Childs elaborated “I quickly recognized that everyone knows something that I do not. Valuable lessons were taught to me by patients, students, nurses, and local doctors. I noticed that Ugandan medical students were extremely well trained in the physical exam. In the United States, it seems that the physical exam plays second fiddle to expensive imaging and testing. However, in Uganda, where access to those tests is extremely limited, they are forced to rely heavily on physical exam findings.”

Gulu locals
Locals from Gulu, Uganda. Photo courtesy of ARCH.

Robert continued “I am a different physician, no, a different person now than I would have been had I never set foot in Gulu Regional Hospital. I will strive to cherish relationships with others. Recollections of a smiling face, the remembrance of a pungent smell, or visions of dying patients, forever etched in my memory, will offer perspective when confronting future challenges. When I see a 16G needle I will be reminded of its many uses, and how I should use resources here in America responsibly.”

Group photo from ARCH’s most recent service trip to Uganda. Photo courtesy ARCH.

This Saturday, September 16, ARCH is hosting a Rural Health Speaker Series from 6-8pm at The Basement in Reno. It’s free to the public with a donation raffle. For more information, check out the event on ARCH’s Facebook page here.

Follow ARCH on their social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and check out their Website!

Thanks Leissan, and ARCH, for serving our global community! What do you think about ARCH? Leave a reply to let me know 🙂

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