They were immersed into another culture where resources were scarce, poverty was abundant and a language barrier forced them to step outside of their comfort zone. Despite these challenges, the group instantly felt at home due to the abundance of joy that radiated throughout the community.
“Kindness is a universal language,” said Kristen Schultz, a fourth-year medical student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. “You don’t have to speak the same language to show love and compassion.”
Schultz—along with fellow classmates and attending physicians— recently returned from a month-long medical mission trip to Rwanda, Africa, where they directly helped patients in the area and at the same time received hands-on experience.
The group, including 11 USA medical students and five USA physicians, spent a month working at Kibogora Hospital, a roughly 230-bed self-supported facility in Southwestern Rwanda. They worked alongside Rwandan physicians in a variety of fields, including surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, ophthalmology, obstetrics and dentistry.
According to Schultz, experiencing a shortage on supplies such as alcohol, anesthetic, bandages and sterile gowns was very common. She spent most of her time taking care of patients in surgical wards, helping out in the minor procedure room and scrubbing into cases.
Schultz said her interaction with a 10-year-old-boy who had a congenital deformity on his right leg was one of the most memorable moments of her trip. The young boy required an amputation, but the hospital was out of anesthetic. “Although the patient was already prepped and in the operating room, we could not begin the procedure until the anesthetic arrived from the neighboring town,” Schultz said.
As they waited, Schultz thought of ways to comfort him. “He was cold and definitely scared,” she said. Schultz began showing the patient photos on her phone to take his mind off of surgery. She then showed him Snapchat, using the camera to change the appearance of his face using filters. “At first he tried to act like he wasn’t interested, but once Snapchat turned him into an old man he couldn’t help but smile and laugh,” she said.
Fourth-year USA medical student Alex Kesler said his hope for the trip was to serve others in need and to learn the joys and struggles of the people in Rwanda. “I also wanted to grow in my faith and have the opportunity to address the faith of the patients in Kibogora Hospital,” he said.
Kesler said many hospital employees walked for hours to get to work each day, yet they were always seen with a smile on their face. “They love their work and the people they serve,” he said. “The most important thing I learned was that across the world there are always different struggles we face, and in the midst of the hardships there are amazing stories of faith and perseverance that can be seen through the daily actions of people.”
Mission trips have always been of great interest to Carter Tisdale, another fourth-year medical student at the USA College of Medicine. “This was my fourth medical mission trip through the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama during medical school,” he said. “Ever since going to Honduras during my first year of medical school, I have wanted to mold my future profession in medicine around medical missions.”
Tisdale said the most memorable part of his trip was participating in spiritual rounds that took place every Sunday afternoon in the hospital’s surgery ward. “Members of our team and local Kinyarwandan translators would voluntarily give up their afternoons to walk around at patients’ bedsides, talking and praying with them,” he said. “Upon being asked by one of the translators who wanted to be prayed for, every hand in the ward shot up enthusiastically and song and dance broke out among the patients.”
“Being a health care professional gives you a passport into people’s lives,” Tisdale added. “This experience was a perfect punctuation to our medical education at South Alabama, serving as a reminder of the relational aspect of patient care before we enter residency training.”
Dr. Keith Peevy, professor of pediatrics at the USA College of Medicine and a neonatologist at USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital, said the group’s commitment to service was unwavering. “They were a great, warmhearted group who were very supportive of each other and the larger team,” he said. “They shared the duties of living communally with no complaint and did their clinical duties enthusiastically. Overall, they made the trip pleasure for the faculty.”
Dr. Peevy said he highly recommends medical students and faculty members to participate in medical mission trips in the future. “The opportunity for personal growth is not something that one can foresee, but its occurrence is virtually certain,” he said. “You come back changed.”
The mission trip is sponsored by the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama (CMMSA). To learn more about CMMSA and supporting medical mission trips like these, visit http://cmmsa.org/#/missions.
Click here to view more photos from the trip.