VOLUNTEERING IN A MEDICALLY UNDERSERVED AREA

Volunteering in a Medically Underserved Area
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I decided to volunteer on a medical brigade in Ghana, Africa during my sophomore year because I was eager to delve into aspects of healthcare that I could not experience on campus. This is absolutely something that I recommend to other pre-meds! You come back from these trips with such a unique perspective on life and healthcare disparities, which I believe helps shape you into a more empathetic and informed physician.

My experience volunteering in a small village in Ghana was shocking. I will never forget the bus barreling down the dirt road towards the ramshackle clinic, the barefoot children, the dilapidated infrastructure, and lack of education within the village. With the closest medical center 15 miles away, lack of transportation and money, there was no access to healthcare. At the OB/GYN station, I assisted in the intake and examinations of countless women for whom pap smears and breast exams were foreign concepts. The dark exam room offered little relief from the hot sun and did nothing to alleviate the fears of anxious patients. A concrete slab served as the examination table and a single flashlight was used to conduct the exams. To test for cervical cancer, we used only small pieces of vinegar-soaked gauze, one of the basic items that comprised the entirety of our donated medical supplies. The lack of running water and infrastructure that did not meet international health standards made me curious about patient infection rates. Despite the poor conditions, I tried to calm the patients by having open conversations about how these procedures worked. I quickly noticed that the information and human interaction empowered the women with the awareness that there are ways to prevent chronic infections and the spread of STDs, two prevalent issues in the community. The women left the clinic feeling more comfortable having open dialogues about sexual health, an initially taboo topic. This experience made me realize that this was just one community of many in need of access to medical care and health education, a universal problem that I am devoted to alleviating as a future physician.

Upon my return from Ghana, I wanted to take this volunteering one step further so I sought a more sustainable organization that incorporated preventative care education when working with underserved communities. Noticing a lack of this type of comprehensive organization on campus, I founded the San Diego State University chapter of MEDLIFE to create additional opportunities for undergraduates to explore the healthcare field {but that is a post for a different day}. Ultimately, I just want to encourage you to get out in the trenches and get involved in what matters to you. For me, that is further helping medically underserved communities locally and abroad. If you have any questions on how to get involved, please let me know!

 

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