From Uganda to Haiti, UB Medical Students Care for the Underserved Overseas

A diagnosis of acute appendicitis, based solely on clinical observation. A mother’s reluctance to undergo Caesarean section based on cultural beliefs about going through labor. An interest in birth control methods that don’t require a husband’s approval.

These are a few of the dramatic clinical experiences that University at Buffalo medical students discussed during the “Global Health Electives and Medical Relief Projects” event on March 13, which aimed to promote volunteer medical opportunities available to University at Buffalo medical students and to educate them about some of the situations they may encounter overseas. At the event, four UB medical students showed slides and described working at clinics in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Lebanon and Peru.

“”Interest in global health is definitely up at UB,” says David Holmes, MD, director of global health education and clinical associate professor of family medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He says that about a quarter of all UB medical students participate in an overseas medical program, up from the teens a few years ago.

In her first year at UB, Julie Garchow, now a fourth-year medical student, became co-president of UB’s International Health Interest Group, working with several like-minded classmates to help facilitate overseas rotations.

“In the U.S., a medical student wouldn’t get to do first assist on a C-section because that’s what the interns and residents will do,” Garchow says. “So when you’re a medical student you’re usually delivering the placenta, not the baby. But in Uganda, we were able to do first assist on C-sections. We had the opportunity to have more responsibility, all the time under supervision from a physician.”

The students also worked with many HIV patients with comorbidities, including malaria and typhoid. “You see diseases that you just don’t see here in the U.S.,” says Garchow. While working with HIV patients in Uganda, she developed a color-coded labeling system for HIV medications to enable patients with minimal literacy to know what to take when, even if they couldn’t read the instructions.

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