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Kansas City University medical students return to Kenyan clinic for out-of-textbook experience

Black person with peach colored top and green skirt, sitting in a chair as a White woman wearing black medical scrubs and a stethoscope, kneels in front of the woman and injects a needle in the Black woman's knee.
Dr. Gautam Desai
Kansas City University
Kayla Shorten, a fourth-year medical student at Kansas City University, gives a patient an inject in the knee during the medical mission trip to Kenya.

For the first time since the pandemic began, Kansas City University medical students returned to a Kenyan clinic to help diagnose and treat patients as part of the school's global health outreach program. Two students share what the experience taught them and how it influenced their medical careers.

In November, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, a team of Kansas City University students returned to Mama Pilista Memorial Health Care Center in Kenya — a clinic named in the honor of KCU adjunct professor Dr. Bonyo Bonyo's mother.

For fourth-year Kayla Shorten, it was her first trip to the Kenyan clinic.

"It just was unreal for us to be there," says Shorten, "a group of medical students who were all looking forward to serving and learning new things and meeting new people."

For more than 20 years, KCU's global health outreach program has been providing medical care in low-income and underserved countries. The Global Medicine Honors Track at KCU is an elective program that allows students to focus on global health care policies, medical research and also the opportunity to take part in international mission trips.

Each day in Kenya, the students arrived to the clinic mid-morning, often to a line of patients waiting to be seen by the visiting American medical team.

"We could see up to maybe 150-200 patients a day, over the span of like six to seven hours," says Chisom Okuagu, a fourth-year medical student.

The Kenyan clinic does have inpatient beds, a pharmacy and HIV education suite, but lacks imagery technology and the ability to do lab work to check things like blood cell counts and organ function, according to Shorten.

"They're very well equipped there but it still was very interesting for us to come over and see what all they don't have to work with," says Shorten.

Black woman in black medical scrubs seated in chair looks at Black toddler seated on her lap. Three other Black adults are in front, while several other individuals are seated in the background
Dr. Gautam Desai
Kansas City University
Chisom Okuagu, seen holding a toddler at a clinic in Kenya, says, "just being part of this vision of international medical work as a student is an incredible opportunity."

The lack of high-tech medical equipment forced the students to rely on presenting symptoms, physical examinations and medical histories to diagnose and treat patients.

Although medical students spend years studying illness and disease, it often doesn't compare to the hands-on experience of diagnosing and treating the ailments. Skin conditions or symptoms of an illness such as jaundice can be less apparent in individuals with dark complexions.

"So really familiarizing ourselves with different populations, especially populations with darker skin, is an asset down the line because you're not just relying on maybe the textbook definitions," says Okuagu.

"Photos in our textbooks are all, for the most part, of lighter skinned people," says Shorten. "Seeing chickenpox on the skin, there again, that was a really interesting thing to see — very different than the textbook photos."

Tuberculosis, mumps, malaria and chickenpox aren't commonly encountered in American medical offices, but were among the cases that the medical students handled in Kenya.

Both Shorten and Okuagu say they intend continue providing medical care to underserved communities after graduating from KCU in the summer.

"My big takeaway is that I want to do this for the rest of my life. I want to be involved in this kind of thing forever," says Shorten.

Shorten and Okuagu joined KCUR's Up To Date to share how the global outreach mission to Kenya benefited their medical education and future career.

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