Oct. 30, 2015
Medical student team finds new perspective in Ghana
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Ashvin Sood, a student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, feels fortunate he’s had the opportunity to visit many communities around the world. In particular, a Semester at Sea program allowed him to travel from country to country, including to Ghana, while studying world history and health disparities.
“While I had a memorable experience,” said Sood, “I was saddened by seeing fellow human beings struggle with basic necessities like having access to health care professionals or not having the ability to travel to a hospital because the roads were too dangerous to drive on during the night.”
I was saddened by seeing fellow human beings struggle with basic necessities like having access to health care professionals.
At first he wasn’t sure how he could make a difference. But in 2014, the summer after his first year of medical school, a light bulb turned on. He saw that, even with just one year of medical school under his belt, his training could be put to use helping to serve the underserved.
That summer, he returned to Ghana with classmates on a medical relief trip. They visited several communities and saw illnesses ranging from malaria to malignant hypertension. “It was fulfilling to give back to those who did not have the same opportunities that we do in the states,” said Sood, “but it was also difficult to reflect on the future health of the people we treated and when they would have the opportunity again to visit a clinic or see a doctor or nurse.”
That question inspired him to find a way to send medical students to one community in Ghana every year. And Team Norvisi was born. Taking its name from the Ewe language that’s spoken in eastern Ghana, Norvisi means brotherhood and sisterhood.
“I love this word because it simply indicates that we are all family. That is what I hope Norvisi becomes — an organization that can bring two cultures together, provide an experience for students to learn, provide Ghanians medical assistance and help strengthen a community.”
Sood knew he wouldn’t go on a summer 2015 trip since he would be absorbed in third-year clinical rotations on the MCV Campus. Instead, he recruited fellow students with the same enthusiasm for rural clinic outreach in Ghana. A five-member board is made up of third-year medical students, and rising second-year students made up a four-member travel team.
For six months they planned the 2015 trip, first getting in contact with Blue-Med Africa. The in-country nonprofit organization hosts students from around the world to help with rural clinic outreach as well as in two regional hospitals.
At the end of May, the four travelers took off for a three-week stay in eastern Ghana. Their home base was the town of Ho in the Volta region.
“For the most part, our work was in the rural villages where we saw patients and distributed medications,” said medical student Kevin Liu. “We also visited schools to do quick head-to-toe exams on the kids.” They learned ringworm is a common fungal infection in the children and treated those affected with an anti-fungal lotion.
The team also was involved in dressing wounds and disinfecting wounds of post-infectious leprosy patients. Because of the stigma associated with the disease, the patients live together in an independent village. Though they’ve been treated and are no longer infectious, many of the patients were missing limbs or had ulcer-laden and deformed extremities.
“In our three weeks, through our interactions, I grew to admire the resilience of one lady who I took care of each time we visited,” said Liu. “She had multiple ulcers on her feet that lacked sensation, and the ulcers made balancing on her feet particularly difficult. Nevertheless, she walked from her home to the community center each time to receive care from me.
"I would clean her ulcer and, as precisely as I could, wrap it up. She had such resilience, and because she embraced our services and noticed improvement through years of care, I have no doubts her wounds will heal in the long run.”
The summer experience also took the team into a regional hospital for an introduction to the different medical units as well as types of patients and diseases seen in Ghana. Liu and a fellow student also spent a couple hours in the operating room shadowing surgeons. “Witnessing an emergency C-section was certainly the highlight of my hospital experience,” said Liu.
Our goal is to make a positive impact on the communities we serve, while gaining valuable insight into medical care in underserved settings.
“Our goal is to make a positive impact on the communities we serve, while gaining valuable insight into medical care in underserved settings,” said Liu. “I believe we achieved this during our trip, but as we improve, we are hopeful that we will have an even more impactful learning experience.”
A future trip is being planned for summer 2016, with the organization Compassionate Journeys, to the village of Tafi Atome. “We are hoping to send medical students and physicians here on a yearly basis to work in their clinic and provide medical relief,” said Sood. The team is interested in recruiting a faculty adviser from the medical school as well as an American physician to join the trip.
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