8,078 miles: That's not even my trip to Uganda.

August 25, 2014
Medical Students working
In the back of the classroom during a break the medical students are discussing the topics just presented in the lecture.

By Tony Fuller
MSc-GH Student
Duke Medical Student

Growing up watching movies I was always fascinated by the airport scenes where people were getting ready to fly around the globe. No one in my family had ever been on a plane, and my mom would always bring up recent plane crashes that were in the news when I told her I’d one day travel the globe. Although I’ve now travelled to many places, that excitement of getting on a plane has never subsided. With my fieldwork experience just around the corner, there is an overwhelming joy that comes with my upcoming trip. On the other side of my journey lies my longstanding dream of working in the field on a neurosurgery project. Having already travelled to Uganda this past November, I know that the months ahead are going to be full of amazing patient interactions, friendly people, and a chance for growth both personally and professionally.

I’m currently excitingly waiting in the RDU airport for my flight to Uganda, but I can’t help but take this time to reflect on the last few weeks and the 8,078 miles that brought me here. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a passion for anatomy and sharing that passion with others whenever an opportunity arises. Through an organization at Duke Medical School, Medical Students for Haiti (MS4H), I was given a chance to share my passion for neuroanatomy with the medical students at Université Quisqueya in Port au Prince. Although I only spent a week there, the experience had a huge impact on me. The excitement I saw on the student’s faces during the long lectures, discussions, and hands-on dissections stoked the fire I have inside for teaching anatomy.

Two memories come to mind when I look back and try to summarize my experience. The first is a heated discussion that happened between two teams during one of our case-based discussions where we had the class break up into teams and answer questions. The reason this struck me was that both teams were passionate in their responses and were able to back up their arguments thoroughly with anatomical facts. Things that we had just taught were thrown into the battle, which showed the depth of their understanding of the material. Personally, I was overjoyed that despite my lack of French or Creole speaking skills the points were being absorbed by the students. The second was an impromptu discussion that happened between a small subset of the class after I asked them the question: Why do you want to become a doctor? Answering this question allowed us to discuss Haiti’s past, its government, divides between the rich and poor, and some commented on staying in Haiti vs. leaving to the US or Canada. It truly was amazing to have a firsthand account of what these students felt, as prior to this I had only heard this question answered by my peers in the US. Leaving this conversation, I felt further connected with these students and more educated on the reality of Haitian physicians leaving the country. I can’t wait to go back next year!

After leaving Haiti my next stop was to visit my family in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During this trip I was able to see my three sisters, my brother, my mom, and my daughter (Nadia). Being away in medical school and graduate school, doesn’t afford me a lot of time to see my family so coming home is always great. I planned this trip specifically so that I could see everyone before I left for Uganda. Having just spent the entire year with my daughter living with me, this trip allowed me to see her again as I missed her dearly. Leaving to go back to Durham was bittersweet as I knew when I walked out the door I wouldn’t see my family or my daughter for a few months. While Skype will allow me to see them, nothing compares to giving my daughter a big hug and kiss before putting her to bed.

They have just called my zone so it’s time to begin my journey, which means my next post will be from Uganda!