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The Catalyst

Students learn importance of medical sustainability, prayer in Uganda

By Ashley Barker
Public Relations

Carter Williams, a first-year MUSC physician assistant studies student, traveled to Uganda, March 8-18, with a team from Palmetto Medical Initiative.

The volunteers treated malaria, fungal infections, muscle aches, high blood pressure, epilepsy, back pain, STDs and dehydration, but Williams found that being able to train the locals to care for their own residents and pray with them were the keys to the trip’s success.

First-year PA student Carter Williams, left, and Christina Bagwell, a student in the nurse practioner program at MUSC, interact with a patient in Uganda.
First-year PA student Carter Williams, left, and Christina Bagwell, a student in the nurse practioner program at MUSC, interact with a patient in Uganda.

“We had the opportunity to put into practice what we have been learning in the classroom for the past 10 months. We gained confidence in our ability to take a thorough history and perform a comprehensive physical exam,” Williams said. “We saw patients with everything from common conditions such as hypertension to rare diseases that you only read about in textbooks in America. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience from both an education and a life perspective.”

PMI, a Charleston-based nonprofit organization committed to providing sustainable, quality health care to those in need while increasing accessibility to global medical missions, built a medical clinic in Masindi, Uganda. Groups of 25-60 volunteers spend a week setting up mobile clinics in various nearby villages.

“It was incredibly humbling to pull up to the clinic site with our team and be welcomed by a line of hundreds of cheering Ugandans who had walked miles to be there and undoubtedly slept at their place in line the night before,” Williams said.

They also trained Ugandans to fill roles in the clinic and provide follow-up care to the patients after the teams left.

“Focusing on education and teaching others to help themselves is the best way to serve an under-developed country,” she said. “Empowering the Ugandan people in Masindi through education is something that will last much longer than the medical care we provided during the 10 days we were there.”

The MUSC PA students who went on the trip to Uganda, from left: Carter Williams, Colby Carter, Danielle Kym, Jessica Pionk and Ashley Nicole Sauls.
The MUSC PA students who went on the trip to Uganda, from left: Carter Williams, Colby Carter, Danielle Kym, Jessica Pionk and Ashley Nicole Sauls.

Williams’ medical team of MUSC PA students Ashley Nicole Sauls, Danielle Kym, Jessica Pionk and Colby Carter joined occupational therapists, pharmacists, physicians and dentists.

“PMI has changed my idea of health care and given me perspective on school and the luxury of education, especially in doing medicine with my classmates while sharing my faith,” Sauls said. “It’s the life I hope to lead practicing as a PA in the United States. It gives me hope and courage to pursue education while being God’s hands and feet to those who have not been given the opportunities that I have.”

The team served approximately 250 patients each day in five different villages and joined Ugandan nurses from the Masindi Kitara Medical Center to educate Ugandans about family planning and the causes of some of their pain.

“I had a girl who came in with neck and back pain. It takes a while to get the story out of them because you’re going through a translator. But I found out she carries a 20-pound jug of water every day for work,” Williams said. “It broke my heart because she’s doing that work to survive. I would normally tell her to put the jug down because her muscles can’t support that weight. But to her, it’s her living. It was hard for me to tell her to take a break.”

Ashley Nicole Sauls, left, and Carter Williams worked with Mustafa, a translator, on the first day at the clinic to talk to a female patient.

In addition to providing care and education, many of the team members also prayed with the patients through the translators.

“My belief in medicine is that God is the ultimate physician, and He’s just using me to work through Him in the lives of other people,” Williams said. “These old ladies would show up with arthritis in every single joint from years of digging in fields and headaches from being massively dehydrated. I would tell them, ‘I’m giving you some Tylenol for your pain and oral rehydration salts because drinking half a cup of tea each day is not quite enough water, and that may be why you have headaches.’ They would just stare back at me. Then I would say, ‘And I’m going to pray for you.’ They’d just light up as if that was the real reason they had waited in line all night.”

Williams, who grew up going on medical trips to Haiti, Belize and Honduras with her father, a cataract surgeon, said the trip with PMI refocused her education to be more service-based.

“The trip to Uganda allowed me to regain my perspective and remember why I am in PA school,” Williams said. “When you’re in school, it is easy to become self centered with countless hours of studying and test taking. That will never satisfy me. It has to be about serving others.”

Money raised for PMI helps keep the clinic in Masindi affordable for the residents. Patients pay what they can, and 98 percent are able to afford their services in full.

“Because PMI provides quality care to the Ugandan people at a reasonable price, they also depend on donations in order to maintain their sustainability model,” Williams said. “A little bit really does go a long way. It costs eight U.S. dollars to treat a patient who has malaria, a common killer in Uganda, only $8 to save someone’s life.”

Lines of hundreds of cheering Ugandans greeted the medical team when it arrived to set up a mobile clinic in a village outside of Masindi.
Lines of hundreds of cheering Ugandans greeted the medical team when it arrived to set up a mobile clinic in a village outside of Masindi.

Fundraisers are held in the United States and donations are always accepted. The Needtobreathe Classic, a golf tournament held in March at the Daniel Island Club, presented by Commonwealth Cares Foundation, had 180 golfers and raised $80,000 for PMI’s medical mission trips and clinics in Uganda and Nicaragua.

“We are so grateful for our partnership with MUSC, as multiple students across all medical disciplines have joined us on many of our short-term medical teams,” said Katie McKenzie, a PMI spokesperson. “We focus on making these trips a unique, educational opportunity for students as they encounter new things and are challenged to think outside of the box.”

Applications are being accepted now for PMI’s August trips to Uganda and Nicaragua. To apply for a trip, donate or find out more about Palmetto Medical Initiative, visit palmettomedical.org.

April 24, 2013
 
 
 

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