Student doctors test their skills in rural Africa

Student doctors test their skills in rural Africa

Dr. Asit Vora, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., is preparing to take a group of student doctors to Tanzania, a country in East Africa, for one month next year. The new Global Health Program will offer pediatric residents the chance to practice medicine in some of the most demanding situations.

While in Africa, the students will work in an underserved rural hospital, providing medical care and developing treatment plans with hospital staff. In turn, they will come back to the U.S. with an educational experience they could never obtain in affluent countries.

The residents will learn to diagnose and treat diseases like malaria, cholera and dengue fever, afflictions uncommon in the U.S. However, with global travel becoming increasingly common, it’s important for physicians to be able to identify diseases not often found back home.

They will also learn to practice medicine creatively and economically. Residents who go abroad are less likely to order unnecessary tests, which helps keep the overall health care costs in the U.S. down, says Dr. Vora.

“Residents quickly learn the way we practice medicine here is not always necessary and we can get by with less,” Dr. Vora adds. “This is because in rural areas of Africa, access to pharmaceuticals, lab work, expensive imaging studies like CAT scans and MRIs, and medical equipment are sparse.”

Dr. Vora also says that practicing medicine in remote regions forces doctors to think outside the box to improvise solutions to a patients’ health issues such as making inhalers out of plastic bottles so children can receive their asthma medication.

Residents will also learn to practice medicine while observing another culture’s sensitivities and make decisions based on ethical concerns, which can often be difficult.

“When you have a shortage of medication, and multiple people need it, you have to make hard choices based on who has the greatest chance of survival,” says Dr. Vora. “In Africa, parents will have seven to eight children knowing four to five will die before the age of 5.”

Dr. Vora remembers caring for a young boy, about 6-years-old, who came to the hospital with sudden onset seizures. Searching for answers, the team discovered that the boy’s mother, who had four other children, had stored rat poison near the family’s meager supply of food. She noticed some of the poison had escaped from a hole in the box. Because she didn’t have the means to throw away the food, she made the difficult decision to feed the possibly contaminated food to her children.

Due to quick medical intervention and detective work by the medical mission team, the young boy survived.

“While this opportunity will initially be offered as a third-year elective for pediatric residents, my goal is to expand it to emergency room and family practice residents and eventually to include students from local medical schools,” Dr. Vora says.

To support this medical mission, donations can be made to the Advocate Children’s Hospital Foundation earmarked to Global Health. For more information, call 708.684.5959 or email emily.vernon@advocatehealth.com.

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About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”