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The Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama (CMMSA) returned April 15 from a medical mission trip to Rwanda, Africa.
The group, including nine University of South Alabama medical students and USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital neonatologist Dr. Keith Peevy, spent four weeks working at Kibogora Hospital in Eastern Rwanda.
“This was the first trip to Rwanda made by CMMSA or USA students,” said Dr. Peevy, CMMSA adviser. “Some of these same students have been to Honduras at least once on summer trips with CMMSA.”
The group left March 17, the morning after Match Day, and volunteered at Kibogora Hospital. The hospital is roughly a 230 bed self-supported facility that has two operating rooms and wards for internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, and OBGYN.
“While there, we were able to directly participate in the care and planning for patients,” said Cody Penrod, fourth year USA medical student. “It was a great learning experience not only in tropical medicine but also in the role we play as physicians.”
While in Rwanda, students were able to directly help patients in the area and get hands-on experience.
“A group of students worked with Dr. Albertson, an orthopedic surgeon from Fairhope who has been to Africa many times, assisting him in orthopedic surgery. Students also assisted a trained Congolese general surgeon,” Dr. Peevy said. “Another group rounded on the neonatology unit and general pediatric patients under my general supervision. We examined and managed infants in their NICU and also on their general pediatric ward and in their PICU.”
Many memorable experiences were gained through this trip as students interacted with the doctors at Kibogora Hospital.
“I think the autonomy and responsibility we were given on internal medicine was the most memorable experience,” said Brannon Vines, a fourth-year USA medical student who also attended. “By the third week we had gained the trust and respect of the physicians who work there for us to function as completely independent doctors making our own decisions about how to treat our patients. This was a very welcome and needed boost of confidence here only months away from starting residency.”
By traveling to Rwanda, the group encountered first-hand the lack of funds in this part of the world that’s needed to properly take care of patients.
“Clinically the most memorable experiences were the loss of two infants from respiratory distress and lack of equipment and training who would easily have survived in the U.S. or other developed countries,” Dr. Peevy said. “Those were emotionally difficult for all of us and brought home the blessing we have in this country in the form of equipment, technology, and trained personnel. We also identified two infants with congenital heart disease and had them transferred to Kigali where there were pediatric cardiology services. I don't think either of them would have been recognized or transferred without our team's input.”
This was an inaugural trip to Rwanda for the group and they are already planning for a trip next year.
“We have filled out debriefing forms that allowed us to brainstorm on ways to improve the trip next year,” Penrod said. “The current thinking is to allow it to be an international elective that is available to fourth year students each and every year. If I had known international electives like this were available it would have been a strong draw to the USA College of Medicine when I was applying.”
This trip brought a group of medical students together to have a life-changing experience in their field of study and faith.
“I was amazed at the great attitude of the group; at the cohesive, loving way in which the students treated each other; at the way they could have fun in the midst of a stressful, fatiguing experience; at how hard they were willing to work for individual patients, knowing that if they did not advocate for the patients that the patient would most likely not receive the treatment they needed,” Dr. Peevy said. “This was a group of students committed to Christ and whose behavior reflected that commitment--I was proud to have been associated with them and look forward to seeing their careers develop.”
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