July 23, 2012
Shelly Bhanot's summer internship involved volunteering at the St. Joseph's Mission Hospital in Migori, Kenya, through Medics to Africa. Shelly was recently accepted to the George Washington University Medical School through the Early Admissions Program at Knox. Her hometown is Barrington Hills, Illinois, and she is a junior chemistry major.
Tell us about your experience. Where was it based, and what were your responsibilities?
I traveled to a rural town named Migori in the African country of Kenya. Through a program called Medics to Africa, I was able to volunteer at St. Joseph's Mission Hospital. Medics to Africa provided me with the opportunities to lend helping hands among the major wards of the hospital: medical, surgical, maternity, and children's/pediatrics. Within these wards, we were able to discuss diagnoses with the doctors and interact with patients; however, experience at the hospital was not limited to the wards. I was able to work and sort medications in the main pharmacy, learn preservation techniques in the morgue, and even join the travel medical team that treated HIV/AIDS patients in nearby towns. My experience was multifaceted not only in the medical sense but also through the program. I documented many key experiences through a blog.
What did it involve on a day-to-day basis?
A typical workday through Medics to Africa consisted of waking up around 7:30 a.m., having a quick breakfast, and being out the door by 8:00 a.m. My colleagues and I would walk about .20 miles to the hospital and have a morning meeting with the chief doctors in each department. As a team, we would be debriefed on the admitted, discharged, and deceased since the previous morning meeting. With the new information, the doctors would collaborate on major cases. Within 30 minutes, we would split into groups for each ward and follow the doctors on rounds; this process would take approximately two to three hours and afterwards, we would return to the Guest House (the lodging for Medics to Africa students) for lunch. Following lunch, students had the option of visiting town to do grocery shopping (students would often need to purchase 5-liter water bottles to stay hydrated) or returning to the hospital (to observe surgeries or work around the hospital). Dinner was served around 5:30 p.m. It was in the evening that the residents of the house would watch movies together or enjoy each other's company. Because of the typically exhausting workday, we often went to bed around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. We had weekends off so we usually spent the day exploring the town or doing activities like visiting the hospital nurses' homes or the orphan schools nearby.
How did you learn about this opportunity?
I asked Terrie Saline at the Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development for advice on where to look for summer internship opportunities. She provided me with several links pertinent to summer study abroad programs. Through the site studyabroad.org, I came to learn about Medics to Africa.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom experiences at Knox helped you in the internship?
When I was working in the laboratory at the hospital, I was able to use lab techniques that I had honed from being a science major at Knox; however, aside from this, my education and experience at Knox provided me with a cultural awareness during my time in Kenya because of Knox's commitment to diversity and cross-cultural understanding.
How do you think this experience will benefit you in terms of your education and future career plans?
I plan on entering the medical field so my time in Africa gave me medical experience through a cultural lens. From working at a rural African hospital, I was able to gain not only knowledge in medicine but also an understanding of cross-cultural barriers -- a trait that is integral to a healthcare professional. My participation in Medics to Africa, I believe, will strongly supplement my medical education through my undergraduate studies at Knox and onwards to medical school.
What was the best part of your internship?
The best part of my internship was, to be quite honest, the people I met. As a first generation Indian girl, I was already aware of life beyond the American shoreline. Many visits with family to India gave me a solid basis of understanding for a third-world country, but my experience in Africa was completely different. Everyone was completely different, and I was thrown into a culture that was in every way foreign to my prior knowledge. I am an intended Gender and Women's Studies minor so I was able to develop an awareness of gender roles in a foreign context. In comparison to America, Kenya was more "primitive" in the gender equality -- women were still being forced to be subordinate. Therefore, establishing contrasts between the two cultures provided me with another, deeper layer of development during my stay in Migori.
What inspired you to pursue this experience?
My passions for medicine and leadership were the primary driving forces that drove me to participate in Medics to Africa. An experience that required a complete immersion in a project with a medical purpose was both an exhilarating and an exciting prospect for me.
What did you learn through your time with Medics in Africa?
First, from being in a foreign hospital for an entire month, I witnessed and learned about the treatment of many diseases that I am not likely to see in the States (e.g. malaria and sickle cell anemia). Although treatment methods between America and Kenya are vastly different, I was able to gain fundamental knowledge of the core concepts behind prophylactic healthcare, treatment, surgical procedure, prescription distribution, and laboratory analysis. From a medical perspective, my time in Africa enriched my medical experience and passion exponentially.
Also, I know I have used this word several times already, but the most important thing I learned was 'understanding.' Going from an affluent healthcare system like that of the United States' to a third-world hospital struggling to make ends meet is a difficult jump. At first, you want to think, "Wow, don't these people realize that patients aren't being cared for properly?" But you soon realize that hospitals in a rural, disadvantaged town are forced to settle for what is available. Especially at St. Joseph's Hospital, a private hospital that relies on donations, the healthcare staff performed to their utmost ability considering the meager amount of resources they could use. It was truly inspirational to witness humanity try its best to help one another.