Story posted September 17, 2008
This past summer, Kyle Dempsey ‘11 volunteered at one of Nicaragua's largest public hospitals. Interested in service and improving his Spanish, Kyle realized he could gain hands-on experience in medicine if he offered his help “doing whatever” in a busy Nicaraguan clinic. His offer of assistance turned into the experience of a lifetime, and with the support of mentoring doctors Kyle was able learn and then perform significant medical procedures. He was willing and his extra hands were needed.
On September 23, Kyle gave a presentation about his experiences to a standing room-only crowd in Banister Hall.
Living and working in Nicaragua this past summer has provided the most culturally awakening, inspiring, and personally fulfilling experience of my entire life.
I spent the summer volunteering at El Hospital Escuela Oscar Danilo Rosales de la Ciudad de Léon in Léon, Nicaragua. This hospital provides health care to Nicaragua's second largest city, Léon, and surrounding rural towns and villages. In addition to direct patient care, the hospital trains doctors and other medical professionals. My days were full. In the mornings, I would ask the attending surgeons who would benefit most from my help and worked in general surgery [hernias, tumor removal, etc.], the neurosurgical department, the urological surgery department, and the plastic surgery department, and with gastrointestinal surgeons. In the afternoons, I worked in the emergency room. My initial duties were limited to wound cleaning and basic suturing. When my Spanish improved (and as the doctors gained more confidence in me), I was able to apply local anesthesia, suture more complicated wounds, diagnose patients with various internal injuries, order x-rays, insert catheters and stomach tubes, and write prescriptions for laboratory examinations as well as medications. Although I learned more about anatomical structure and function in the operating rooms, the emergency room really provided me with more stressful, hands-on experiences that allowed me to not only practice medicine but to also make independent judgments on various cases.
When I began volunteering at the hospital I was intimidated as all the doctors (or so it seemed) spoke only Spanish. However, soon I became good friends with several residents who were able to speak some English, and I also found out that the majority of doctors did actually speak English to varying extents. Thus I began my immersion into the language as well as the work. Over the course of the summer, the doctors taught me many things, but at first it was still very difficult for me to have meaningful interactions with patients, as some were uneasy with my inability to speak Spanish fluently. To overcome this obstacle, I read the local newspaper each day and practiced new vocabulary constantly with the doctor’s daughters. By the fifth week of my internship, I no longer had any problems understanding Spanish and by the seventh week I could speak fluently.
Leaving Nicaragua, I felt my experiences had far exceeded my expectations. These experiences did not really change any of my future career aspirations, though they definitely reaffirmed my fascination with medicine and the human body as well as the huge sense of well-being that I receive, when helping others. My experience also opened my eyes to the poor healthcare conditions that exist in many countries. As a person who lived without healthcare (and therefore did not have access to quality healthcare as a child), I easily empathized for the Nicaraguan people and plan to help them even more, when I am physician (by donating time as well donating necessary supplies). In the short run, however, I also intend to help Nicaragua by raising awareness on campus (as there are many students that will likely also volunteer their time and effort to Nicaragua) and by coordinating efforts with the Omprakash foundation (a non-profit global volunteer organization) to direct more international volunteers and resources to Nicaragua.