Malawi, Africa Excursion 2016

Recently, President Nielsen and his wife, Jodi Nielsen, led a team of 35 to the poorest country in the world, Malawi, Africa. President Nielsen has been serving the people in Africa each year for 29 years in various countries. He and his family started the nonprofit foundation, World of Difference (www.makeaworldofdifference.org), to focus on the educational needs of children and began building schools in many countries over these past years. They truly have made a “World of Difference.” As a natural partnership, the Nielsen’s worked with our RMUoHP Foundation, Faculty and Administration to bring these service opportunities to our students over the past few years. The team of 35 consisted of 10 Physician Assistant (PA) students, 5 Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students, a PA and a DPT faculty member, three pre-PA students, a pre-DPT student, three practicing PTs, other RMUoHP administration and non-RMUoHP associated personnel.

The expedition focus was to serve the children and people of Malawi by building a primary school and library along with providing a clinical experience in this third-world country for RMUoHP students and faculty and healthcare professionals on the team. During this time, RMUoHP students and faculty participated in clinical internships in third world hospitals in the capital city of Lilongwe and Blantyre (where RMUoHP students worked with clinical preceptors at both sites and associated with their international counterparts). Eleven team members remained behind at the school construction work site. Faculty leader, Tyler Sommer coordinated the efforts for 10 RMUoHP PA students to learn and serve in a hospital and medical school in Lilongwe. DPT faculty leader, Dr. Coleby Clawson organized for five DPT students, along with five others in Blantyre for a clinical experience. This group included a DNP and CEO of a local college in Utah who partnered with the Chief Nursing Officer at the hospital in Blantyre.

Each team member sacrificed their checked luggage to carry 100 pounds of donated items, ranging from medical textbooks, school books for the library, construction tools and gloves, medical supplies, toys, blankets, team jerseys and playground toys. The soccer balls were a huge hit as ‘futbol’ is very popular there. Giving these items away at area orphanages was one of the highlights for team members. Huge duffel bags full of medical supplies were also delivered to nearby clinics and medical textbooks were presented to the medical school dean and hospital healthcare leaders in the two cities. These textbooks updated their libraries considerably and one dean tearfully expressed that this generous gift increased his library by 40 percent!

The different components of the expedition from the projects on the work site to the many donations we provided to the student clinical internships were extremely successful. This very memorable service expedition produced life-changing experiences for each volunteer.

RMUoHP students and team members were filled with compassion for the children and the people of Africa. Hearts seemed to grow several sizes with much gratitude for such loving interactions. Everyone worked side-by-side; and the children, even the tiniest of them would do all they could to help, mimicking whatever task was being performed in the construction efforts! Smiles and love and joy were all plentiful.

“We wished so deeply we could give them the world, give them food for every meal, where they might only have one meager morsel a day; we wished we could provide them safe, warm beds, where they slept on dirt; we wished we could provide them new clothing and shoes, where they had bare feet; we wanted to give all we had to them, said Dr. Nielsen. “We had to come to realize that the gift we were providing in that school, that library, our hard-working example of service, the school supplies and donations, along with our plentiful love would be all we had.”

The school will house more than 30,000 children over the 70- year lifespan of the structure and all those children will have a better chance at life. They are now enabled to attend school in a safe environment and become something more.

“That gift – the gift of becoming is all that we had to give, and it is a precious gift to those children and their families for generations to come,” said Dr. Nielsen. “Education is a grand prize above shoes, clothes or even three meals a day. Education is a valuable and precious commodity that enables them to ‘become.’ We had but a small part in this whole scheme of things, yet it was huge at the same time, and the ripple effect will go on for years.”

DPT Clinical Experience

Five of our DPT students, Aasta McColery, Buddy Langton, Carson Loose, Crystal Miskin and Dallas Reynolds along with Dr. Coleby Clawson, DPT faculty member, were able to spend their final week in Africa volunteering at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.

While there, they were able to get hands-on clinical experience as they rotated through different medical units, including pediatrics, orthopedics, neuro, cardiopulmonary, the burn unit, and women’s health.

In addition to the clinical experience, they were able to spend a lot of time with the local physical therapy students and were invited to lecture every afternoon at the local university with their fourth-year students.

One of the major issues facing physical therapists in Malawi is not knowing if they will ever get paid. The hospitals there are underfunded, and because of this, many of the PTs are forced to leave for other countries to practice in order to provide for their families. To encourage local PTs to stay and practice in their own country, Dr. Clawson spent some time teaching the African students about opening private practices where they could potentially provide services for trade, in addition to monetary compensation.

“For us, it was more powerful to be with the future of physical therapy with the PT students than the small things, like giving out candy,” said Langton. “It’s one piece in a great system. We changed the paradigm of the future there. They’re proud of the profession. They want to figure out how they can do more. They want to go forward.”

Along with helping to shape the future of physical therapy in Malawi, the RMU DPT student experiences will have a lasting impact on their lives, both professionally and personally.

“I enjoy staying in contact with some of the students and preceptors from Blantyre. I enjoy looking at the photos and videos and reliving those experiences,” Miskin said. “It is a reminder of my purpose for becoming a healer. To some it is given the gift to heal and to others, the gift is to be healed. I was the beneficiary of both.”

PA Clinical Experience

Ten RMUoHP PA students, including Anna Sorrell, Jesse Golodner, Jordan Lythgoe, Kaitlin Kelly, Katie Cox, Kelsey Dickson, Mallory Driscoll, Mike Cheesman, Valerie Smith and Whitney Bates along with PA faculty member Tyler Sommer spent their final week volunteering at the Kamzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. During their week-long clinical rotation, they were able to have experience helping in many different areas including surgery, the emergency room, hospital internal medicine, pediatrics, the pediatric burn unit, orthopedics and Obstetrics/Gynecology.

“Before we got to the hospital, we were wondering what we were going to be able to do, how they were going to use us and what kind of setting we would be in,” said Cheesman. “You could tell instantly that we were welcomed. Every single provider accepted us as part of the medical team.”

As part of the trip, they were able to donate 150 recently published textbooks to the medical library at the Malawi College of Health Sciences, increasing their library by 40 percent.

“Their latest Obstetrics book was from 1982,” said Sorrell. “I wasn’t even born yet. Things have changed a lot since then. Being able to give them that resource will help change the way they do things.”

In addition to their time in the hospital, they were able to attend a student conference with the medical students and clinical officer (the equivalent of a PA in Malawi) students at the Malawi College of Health Sciences. During this conference, they gave presentations on cases they had seen as well as listening to the cases presented by the students at the college.

At this conference, the PA students were able to hear about some cases that they had never heard of before. It also gave them a chance to see the differences between resources available in Malawi and what is available to them in the US.

Cheesman shared a story about a patient that he saw who needed a CT scan. However, the only CT scanner in the country is located at the hospital in Blantyre, which is approximately 250 kilometers away.

“It was a great experience, a humbling experience for what we do have here,” said Cheesman. “But also at the same point, we understood that as students their resources just aren’t there to help patients with something that is easily treatable.”

“This is only the beginning of what we anticipate will grow in Malawi as RMUoHP students and faculty continue to build good will and professional bridges that will promote higher education standards in that country,” said Sommer. “Next year and the years following will continue to build relationships which will provide greater opportunities for the healthcare students in Malawi.”