Allison Sowers developed a deeper understanding of herself and the world she lives in during a recent internship with International Medical Aid (IMA) in Mombasa, Kenya. Sowers, a biology and pre-medical sciences major, spent three weeks in Kenya working with IMA at the Coast Provincial General Hospital. International Medical Aid, founded by two Johns Hopkins alumni, is a not-for-profit organization based in the United States. IMA strives to improve the health of underserved individuals in South America, East Africa and the Caribbean through mobile medical clinics, public health education programs and first responder training.
Sowers fascination with the medical field came from having been in and out of hospitals many times in her young life, including a surgery on the day she was born for blockage of a small upper intestine. “My biggest takeaway from going there might sound cliché, but the IMA internship taught me that heart is more important than privilege, resources, or money,” said Sowers. “My time in Mombasa allowed me to experience Kenya’s healthcare system firsthand and opened my eyes to how underprivileged the public hospitals are in that country. According to IMA, the Kenyan government spends only 24 USD on health care per capita, and only 4.6 percent of the gross domestic product goes towards health expenditures.”
Sowers, who plans on going into pediatric anesthesiology, was able to take the internship after being awarded a Professional Experience Grant (PEG) from Bloomsburg University. The money covered the cost of her trip to the African nation and experience many different areas of the healthcare field while there. “I shadowed doctors in departments of my choosing (pediatrics, emergency, and surgery),” said Sowers. “Outside of the hospital, I also participated in community outreach activities like hygiene clinics at a local school, a menstruation clinic for young girls, and a community medical clinic for school children and their families at Milele Elimu Center. I also got to participate in a suture and IV clinic. In my free time, I got to explore Mombasa and surrounding areas and learn about the culture of Kenya.” Sowers was nervous in advance of the trip, but quickly adapted to her surroundings. “Yes, I was nervous for flying by myself, but once I got to Mombasa and was picked up by my program mentors, I felt right at home,” Sowers added. “There were interns from all over the world and we quickly bonded. I am still communicating with them regularly.”
One of the biggest lessons learned during her internship was how to be resourceful to solve problems. “While working in the newborn unit, my mentor explained to me that they don’t have enough incubators when the babies are born, so they do a “kangaroo” technique by wrapping the babies against their mother’s chest to keep them warm,” said Sowers. “These are problems that I will probably never have to experience in the U.S., but the doctors at CPGH don’t complain; they just take the necessary steps to get the job done.” Her most essential takeaways from the trip will be life-changing for her, though. “The heart and compassion shown by the Kenyan doctors I was able to interact with is something that I most definitely will carry with me into my profession,” said Sowers.
“I hope to learn to bite my tongue and not complain at every little inconvenience in my life and to find another solution. I hope to be able to educate others in the American health care system and inspire them to go into the field for the right reasons. Most importantly, I plan to go back to Kenya and other underprivileged areas to share aid and resources with the people and doctors in these countries. I look forward to being able to do this when I am a medical professional myself so that I can provide more assistance and feedback.”