It all started with a phone call from my best friend and fellow SHE-CAN scholar, Chartine, who was at a SHE-CAN dinner party in San Francisco. “How do you feel about going to Kenya for an internship at the end of the week?” she inquired. “Barb will call you later, and she will explain everything.” At the mention of Barbara, SHE-CAN’s Founder, I sat up straight but Chartine had already hung up to go back to her social event.
The next day, Barb connected me with Bill Plautz, Board Member of Tiba also known as Matibabu Foundation in Kenya. He and his wife Kathleen Welsh, MD were encouraging me to leave my EMT training and pursue my dreams of being in the medical field by working in the Matibabu hospital. In Swahili, “Matibabu” means “treatment” and that’s exactly what this grassroots organization is doing in Ukwala in Siaya County Kenya. I was fortunate enough to be an intern and experience for myself what Matibabu represents to the local community.
I reached Ukwala on Friday, July 7 and I didn’t have to wait until Monday to start having the life-changing experience I was hoping to have. The following day I had the pleasure of meeting with Daniel (Dan) Ogola the Director! It didn’t take long to realize that we had so much in common and shared similar views on a wide range of topics. We spent the entire afternoon until sunset sitting under a tree outside the hospital working out the details of my internship, talking about the history of Matibabu Foundation and Dan’s vision for better healthcare for his community. I pitched to him what I wanted my internship to look like and Dan put me in contact with everyone at the hospital who would be able to help once he returned to Nairobi.
At the hospital I divided my time between public health and medicine. I conducted a mini study in the Maternal and Child Health Clinic assessing factors that affect mothers’ decisions to seek antenatal care services at Matibabu. This study showed that it was evident that Matibabu Foundation Hospital was doing a phenomenal job of reaching these women considering that nurses in government hospitals had been on strike on and off since December 2016. After wrapping up my study, I started my medical part of the internship, which involved spending approximately 10 hours a day in the wards.
Each day started off with rounds led by clinical officers and sometimes a doctor. After a few days in the wards, I claimed the role of taking vital signs of all the patients throughout the day, getting medication from the pharmacy as per nurse’s orders and shadowing whoever had an interesting case. I got used to being asked medical questions during rounds and eventually got in the habit of prepping before rounds by Googling as much as I could before being put on the spot. My favorite part of rounds was when the doctor or clinical officer handed me the stethoscope to listen to someone’s heart and lungs. I also enjoyed spending hours at the nursing station discussing cases and asking questions, which were always answered with the level of detail given to someone already in medical school.
They advised me to carry on with my plan to go to medical school and that my alternate plan, going into public health, wasn’t going to make me as excited and happy as I was a few minutes ago. I listened to them carefully, and this was just the first day of their mentoring because in the days that followed I was working closely with them and it was arranged for me to shadow other nurses and clinical officers on interesting cases. The hours spent taking care of the patients were rewarding but what I valued even more was the trust, encouragement and responsibilities bestowed on me by the hospital staff. Their support inspired and reassured me that the ward was where I truly belonged.