Jennie Herrington is a doctor from the United States who volunteered her time at the Partners in Hope Medical Center(PIH) for the month of July, 2012. Following her experience here, she gave some thoughtful answers to questions that other doctors might have:
1. How does medical practice at the Partners in Hope Medical Center differ from your experience in the United States?
Being in a resource-limited setting means thinking about diagnosis and treatment a little bit differently. I found that I began to rely more on my clinical exam and diagnostic reasoning, rather than reflexively ordering X-rays or lab tests that would have been considered routine in my hospital in the United States. Though at times I wished there was a specific test for a patient, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of diagnostic capabilities available at PIH.
The cultural perspectives on health are quite different - and can make for interesting doctor-patient communication. One great example was the man who came for an ultrasound to see "the biting thing" in his body that had bothered him for many years. It bit mostly in his stomach, sometimes biting up his chest to his throat, and sometimes even jumped around to his ankle or back. The biting was worse if he ate spicy things, drank Coca-cola, and often when he laid down to sleep. I told him that I, too, would love a picture of his "biting thing", but that it was invisible. We could kill it, though, and heal the "bites" (ulcers) with medication (triple therapy H. pylori).
Lastly, I was exposed to so many different diagnoses that would be rare in the US. They challenged me to expand my differentials, learn to search out answers that I'd normally turn to a specialist for, and to add to my "toolkit of experience" to draw on in the future.
2. Was there one specific patient who “grabbed your heart”? Why?
There are so many patients, really, that I carry with me still. One in particular sticks out, as she came in with confusion, inability to walk, and looking very, very ill. She likely had an infection in her brain (Tb meningitis), and her family didn't think she would survive. Yet, just 24hours after being admitted to Thandizo Ward, she was talking and eating, and soon walking and doing great! PIH fills such a critical need for patients like this, for whom healthcare is a literal life-and-death issue. I felt privileged to participate in serving this woman who now has a chance to live out her life because of PIH.
3. What message would you like to give to other doctors considering the idea of coming to work at Partners in Hope?
Don't let fear of the unknown keep you from this wonderful experience! The doctors and staff are welcoming, quick to help you learn and to answer questions. It's a very rewarding way to learn a new area of medicine while helping serve a generous, caring people. Well worth your time!