Students share stories of summer adventures

Multicultural Pathway participants develop cultural competencies

By Kristen O’Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

August 30, 2011
Poster Image 2011
Hemang Acharya, left, and Eric Gruber discuss their summer adventure in Sierra Leone during the Global Medical Education Poster Fair. 

Their experiences were as different as the countries they visited this summer. The second-year students presenting at the Global Medical Education Poster Fair on Friday, Aug. 26, told of conducting research, working on farms, helping in public hospitals and clinics, living with families and polishing their language skills.

“I wanted to something totally different and out of my comfort zone,” said Sara-Grace Reynolds, who experienced cattle farming in rural Ecuador. “The sense of community there is really, really strong, which is something you don’t get in this country. It was impossible to be alone, or to feel alone, because the community is so close.”

Most are participants in the Pathway on Serving Multicultural and Underserved Populations elective, a course designed to help students develop linguistic and cultural competence and sensitivity to the hardships that many immigrants and poor people face. As part of the program, they received a stipend to help with travel and living costs.

“There is a stark difference between private and public hospitals” in Ethiopia, said Hirut Fassil, who returned to her native country for the second time since her parents came to the United States when she was two years old. “There is a great need for funding and manpower. In the public hospitals, patients had to pay for gloves before being admitted. It was a real reality check.”

Barak Sered connected with Partners in Health, a Harvard University-affiliated non-governmental organization, to conduct epidemiology research in Chiapas, Mexico, following up on a long-term tuberculosis study. In six weeks, he interviewed 70 people, some in the city and some in very remote areas that required a four-hour truck ride to reach them. “I learned a lot about Mexico,” said Sered, who is a former Peace Corp volunteer.

Hemang Acharya and Eric Gruber traveled to Sierra Leone and worked in a clinic, scrubbing in on surgeries, performing rounds and doing laparoscopies—essentially “performing the same duties as third-year medical students do here,” said Acharya. They saw diseases, such as River Blindness, that are rare in the United States but common in Africa, and Lasso Fever, a mysterious viral hemorrhagic fever that kills 70 percent of its victims.

The pair was there to support a Texas physician who has made it his life’s work to repair obstetric fistulas, a debilitating condition that can result from lack of access to adequate emergency obstetric care. This is a common problem for many women in underserved areas and can lead to them becoming social outcasts. Reconstructive surgery to fix incontinence can return these women to normal lives

“We met some extra strong women. We saw their lives changed in a matter of a few hours,” said Eric Gruber. “Pretty powerful stuff.”

“It’s really inspiring to see what people can do with such limited resources,” Acharya said.

View a slideshow here:

Some of the poster presentations are available online:

The following posters were presented:

Sumathi Narayana and Fique Tranquilo: A Language and Cultural Immersion in Salvador, Brasil

Eric Gruber and Hemang Acharya: Obstetric Fistula Repair and Healthcare in Post-war Sierra Leone

Whitney Hendrickson and Jessica Masiero: Maternal and Child Health in Pune, India

Barak Sered: Tuberculosis in Chiapas: A Look at TB in Mexico’s Poorest (and sickest) State

Julie Tabroff: Perceptions of Disease Severity and Frequency in Rural Malawi

Katie Goble: Spain: Investigación Neuroscientifica

Pearl Houghteling: Women’s Health in the Peruvian Migrant Community of Santiago, Chile

Gowri Aragam: Community Rehabilitation Program in Cape Town, South Africa

Dan Choi and Jeff Barrett: Uganda: a Look Inside ‘The Pearl of Africa’

Sarah Tracy: Pediatric Neurosurgery Clinical Experience and Outcomes Research at CURE Children’s Hospital, Mbale, Uganda

Reza Hosseini Ghomi: Healthcare Quality Improvement in Malawi

Raymond Lee: Community Outreach Volunteering in the Volta Region, Ghana

Jenn Fantasia: The International Clinic of Qingdao, China

Claire Welteroth: Healthcare Challenges in South Africa

Debbie Afezolli: An Insider’s Tale of Politics, Culture and Health Care in Albania

Malessa Dias and Amanda Bernier: Todo es Possible en Guatemala!

Hirut Fassil: Learning Medicine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Linda Xie: West Meets East: the Beijing Cancer Hospital, China

Sebastian Ramos, Emily Chen and Alli Ortiz: A Comprehensive Healthcare Experience in Leon, Nicaragua

Vivek Venugopal: Medicine in Faridabad

Sara-Grace Reynolds: Adventure in Amazonia: Culture, Swapping and Cattle Farming in Rural Ecuador


Related links:

Students share summer international adventures stories