Medicine & Healthcare in Kenya by Yossef Alnasser
My name is Yossef, I am a young man who lives in New York. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. My single mum taught me everything I know today despite the fact that she never finished 6th grade. I remember my sister and I playing “doctors” in our living room. Ironically, I used to be the patient all the time. I had always dreamed of going to medical school and I did. Seven years it took me to finish Pre-med and Medical school. During school, I always hope one day I will help a less fortunate community in getting a good health care. I had never been brave enough to go to Africa or anywhere else at that time. Also, I was questioning my ability to help others with my limited knowledge and experience.
After graduation, I moved to the United States to pursue my education and training. I chose a school in New York to do my Master of Science while I was preparing my board exams. Life has been tough since I moved to New York as I was busy doing schoolwork and using every free second to study for my exams. It was late April when I heard about a medical mission carried out by my school. They were planning to visit Central America, Belize to be specific. The trip would last for 2 weeks and mainly for public education. We went at Christmas time to San Ignacio, Belize. We were like a gift from Santa to the community of Belize. I worked as a junior physician and took care of mild illnesses.
After returning to New York, all my fears of being an inefficient physician or lacking knowledge were gone. I said to myself, it is time to go to Africa before I get old and complicate my life with a wife and kids. I asked around about what organisation should I sign with or to which country should I go. I choose Projects Abroad as it was recommended by a doctor I met in one of American Academy of Paediatrics’ symposium.
Volunteering with Projects Abroad
I started contacting Projects Abroad. I was amazed with their flexibility and friendliness. They answered all my questions and sent me the offer through email. I was asked to create an account in their website. They have services for everything related to your volunteering experience from flights, placement to vaccinations. I picked Kenya as it is not a common destination for volunteers. It is also one of the African countries that has a lot of children with health issues, my major interest in medicine. They speak English as an official language despite Swahili being their native language. I also know some Swahili from Lion King. At least to tell someone: not to worry! I decided to go to Africa in July after I did some more training in one of the American Paediatrician’s offices.
When I arrived to Nairobi, Kenya, It was 6am, I had been delayed and wasn’t able to contact. Projects Abroad to let them know so didn’t know who to expect at the airport. Kenyans are super nice people. As soon as I told someone about my dilemma, she took me to her office to get the Projects Abroad contact info from my account. Then, she offered me her mobile phone to call the manager of the local office of Projects Abroad. I was surprised to find him awake at this time and more surprised that he managed to find someone to pick me up within 10 minutes.
Arriving in Kenya
We drove from Nairobi to Nakuru for 2 hours and a half. We arrived to the office and did my introduction after having a cup of tea, you get offered a cup of tea every five seconds in Kenya. Then, they took me to my host family. My host family was expecting me 3 days ago and they were waiting to meet their first volunteer. My host family mum hugged me as like I am her lost child. Again, Kenyans showed me how nice and kind they are.
My host family lived outside the market area what we can call the downtown. I had to ride a “Matatue” every morning to the hospital. Matatue is a mini-van loaded with people. I was placed in Valley hospital, a small private hospital. The hospital only has 2 doctors who were overwhelmed with work. The hospital is a well-respected centre in Nakuru as people don’t trust the public hospital. I went every morning around eight after a delicious breakfast to ride the Matatue to the hospital. Riding the Matatue was an adventure by itself.
My medicine project in Kenya
When I arrived to the hospital, I joined the rounds. Then I joined one of the clinic officers to the clinic. Clinic officer is a unique title to Kenya. They are the equivalent to a physician’s assistant in the US. Every Thursday, I went with my fellow volunteers to visit schools to screen kids for fungal infections and clean wounds. One Friday we also painted an orphanage and turned it into a happy place. On Wednesday we did cultural activities in the evening like dancing and went to a local reggae concert. Kenyans are still crazy about Bob Marley.
Working in the hospital was very interesting. I worked as a GP and saw a variety of patients. I saw cases in one month equal to a year of practice in Saudi Arabia and 2 months of training in the US. Spontaneous abortions, Malaria, Meningitis, Elephantiasis, acute appendicitis, Bell’s palsy, HIV and safe sex counselling, Tuberculosis and malnutrition were all amongst the cases I saw. I was not only helping, I was also learning. In the rounds, I used to impress my fellow Kenyan doctors by getting answers and solving some of our daily challenges by seconds.
It usually takes them days to find such answers after reading books and journals. I was not the smart doctor in the group, but I was armed with technology. I downloaded a couple of apps in my iPhone and used them every time I needed help. Smart phone is luxury Kenya has not experienced yet.
I call my Kenya experience a life changing adventure that I am proud of. I would call Projects Abroad the facilitator of my amazing time in Kenya.