June 5, 2014
Training physicians, Healing Uganda
OSU Medicine partnership helps girls recover from abuse by militants.
After a week treating children and young women in war-torn Uganda last year, Luanne Vo returned to the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa with a renewed passion for medicine.
“My time in Uganda solidified my desire to be a physician,” the second-year medical student says. “In just a week, my skills were put to the test. I quickly became comfortable working with patients and met many fascinating people who are full of joy, despite their awful past.”
As the college’s chapter president of Pros for Africa, Vo organizes summer medical trips for students to support the efforts of the Oklahoma City-based international aid nonprofit that connects professionals from all fields with ways to help children in Africa.
Through a partnership with Saint Monica’s Girls Vocational School, OSU medical students, residents and faculty will have more opportunities to work in Uganda by taking part in international medical rotations.
The international rotations were announced during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery joining the OSU system. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, the founder of Saint Monica’s, was the featured guest for the commemoration.
“Research has shown that when a medical student completes an international clinical experience, it increases the probability they will pursue a career in a primary care area,” says OSU Center for Health Sciences President Kayse Shrum. “The experience also helps students improve diagnostic skills and become more empathetic and culturally sensitive physicians. Those attributes will benefit them as they begin careers in rural and underserved Oklahoma.”
The collaboration is an extension of the partnership that began with Pros For Africa co-founders Reggie and Rachelle Whitten, Nyirumbe and OSU-CHS.
“Our partnership with OSU Center for Health Sciences is strong,” Nyirumbe says. “Everyone at OSU has jumped on board to support the mission of Saint Monica’s.”
Nyirumbe works with girls abducted from their families and forced to serve as sex slaves for officers in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA was forced out of Uganda in 200 and since then has wreaked havoc in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. The LRA became notorious for kidnapping children. Boys were forced to fight as soldiers. The rebels especially prized girls, as they could fight and be sex slaves.
Saint Monica’s is a refuge where these young women learn to sew clothes, grow food and learn a trade to support themselves and their families. Nyirumbe’s humanitarian efforts have garnered international praise and in 2007 the prestigious CNN Hero award.
“Sister Rosemary is a trained midwife and has delivered many babies,” said Shrum, who is also the faculty advisor for the Pros for Africa student chapter. “She knows better than most the importance of primary care and how critical quality health care is to life expectancy. Our students and faculty will benefit from working with her in Uganda.”
Vo is delighted that OSU has partnered with Saint Monica’s and that more OSU medical students will have the opportunity to work with Sister Rosemary and complete international rotations in Uganda.
“Sister Rosemary is an amazing woman, full of energy and spirit,” said Vo. “After we returned from our previous trip to Uganda, we were able to share our experiences of working with the people at Saint Monica’s. Many of our classmates were discouraged about their lack of ability to experience Uganda. This partnership opens the door for more students to learn from her example and help the underserved people she loves.”
Once the specifics of the program are in place, Vo plans to return to Uganda on a rotation. Second-year medical student Anish Bhakta, who also went on a medical mission trip to Uganda last year, will complete a rotation there as well.
“I left Africa thinking that would be the last time I would be able to visit for a long time,” said Bhakta, treasurer of Pros for Africa. “That has since changed with the addition of the international rotation, and I’m excited our school is offering this opportunity. It will positively impact our education and also help the women and children at Saint Monica’s.”
OSU-CHS has also adopted Saint Monica’s as an international education partner, ensuring continued collaboration between OSU students, faculty and staff and the students in Uganda. The partnership will also enable international educational opportunities between Saint Monica’s students and children at Tulsa’s Eugene Field Elementary School, the university’s Partner in Education.
“Everyone at OSU-CHS is excited to launch this global partnership with Sister Rosemary and offering our students and faculty an international clinical experience in Uganda,” says Dr. Robin Dyer, president of the OSU-CHS faculty senate. “By adopting Saint Monica’s, we also will be opening the doors to further collaborative endeavors down the road.”
Plans are underway to begin offering the international rotations in Uganda later this year. In the meantime, a group of OSU-CHS students and faculty, through Pros for Africa, will complete another medical mission trip to Uganda in May.
“During our 25th anniversary celebration, more students were able to meet Sister Rosemary and interest in supporting her work grew quickly,” said Vo. “They met a woman who is passionate about her work and desire to serve others but who also needs more help for Uganda. Many students have responded and want to add a rotation in Uganda to their training.”
This story originally ran in the Spring 2014 issue of STATE Magazine.