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In her four years of medical school at the University of South Alabama, one of Olivia Butters’ memorable learning experiences happened 8,000 miles away.
Butters was on a medical mission trip to the African country when she visited a home with a man dying of liver cancer. The family lived in a small hut without electricity or running water. Because of the man’s illness, he could no longer work in the fields and the burden fell on his wife and children.
“Life is difficult for them, but they are an inspiration,” Butters said. “They could choose bitterness – instead they choose joy. How incredible that people with so little to offer in the eyes of the world could teach me so much.”
Butters, who graduates this spring, knew she wanted a career “focused on helping people.” She got hooked on medicine during her junior year at USA when she took an anatomy class as an undergrad, and throughout medical school has used her resources, education and abilities to help those in need.
She’s been on life-changing medical mission trips to minister to the health care and spiritual needs of people in Peru, Honduras and Rwanda. “I’m grateful that I went to a medical school that had opportunities for me to serve others,” she said.
She believes it’s important for medical students to be involved in volunteer work, specifically mission trips. “On trips I’ve been on, I’ve seen people who just don’t have a lot,” Butters said. “The trips enhanced my medical education by widening my experiences with people of different cultures and improving my ability to make medical decisions in settings with limited resources.”
In Peru, Butters joined a team of medical students to provide relief to villagers along the Amazon River. At each village, the group set up a clinic – either under a tent or in a building in the pueblos along the river – and provided medical care, eye glasses, prayer, Bibles, gifts and a family photo.
Butters said her favorite experience in Peru was the simple act of washing the locals’ feet.
“Most of them who live on the river don’t own shoes, and mud gets caked on their feet,” she said. “It was a growing opportunity for me to humble myself and be a servant to the beautiful people there. They were so touched that we were getting our hands dirty, and they knew we were there because we loved them.”
Butters, who is pursuing a career in pediatrics, said her love for children inspired her to also become involved in “Buddy Ball,” a local cause that provides athletic activities for mentally and physically challenged youth. One team in particular, the Braves, is coached by USA College of Medicine students.
Butters, a former diamond girl for USA’s baseball team, serves as a “buddy” and assists the players on the field.
“I found this experience to be a wonderful break from studying and a way to enjoy time outdoors with precious children and my classmates,” she said.
“If you spend just a few minutes on the field with our team, you will find that our players know the game of baseball,” she said. “One thing I have learned is to not underestimate the ability of a child with special needs.”
Butters, 26, is originally from Mobile but moved to Montgomery at a young age. She majored in psychology before enrolling in medical school, attracted by the small class sizes.
“It’s always been a very welcoming school,” she said. “I felt like I could get a more hands-on experience here, and I did.”
In 2015, Butters was named to the USA Chapter of the Arnold P. Gold Humanism in Medicine Honor Society. The USA College of Medicine Class of 2016 selected those who have demonstrated excellence in clinical care, leadership, compassion and dedication to service.
After earning her medical degree this Saturday, Butters will begin residency training in pediatrics at the University of Florida-Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. “I’ve lived in Mobile for nine years now so I’m ready to try something new,” she said. “I’m excited – a little nervous, but excited.”
Going into medical school, she figured that all of her time would be spent studying and that it would be hard to find time to do anything outside of school. “That honestly wasn’t the case,” she said. “I spent a lot of time studying, yes. But I’ve also made some great friendships and I got to go on a lot of adventures while here.”
“I’m so grateful for the education that South has given me,” she added. “Now, I’m ready for my next adventure.”
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