Medical Missions Trip Tests RUSM Student


Betheal Aschenaki recounts “life-changing” events that have strengthened her resolve to pursue a medical degree

Hundreds of people, from toddlers to senior citizens, lined up daily to get medical care from a team of Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) and Chamberlain College of Nursing (CCN) students during an international interdisciplinary clerkship elective that took place Sept. 1-14, 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya. It is the third clerkship in which RUSM has participated in the region.

“It was a humbling experience,” said Betheal Aschenaki, who was one of the five RUSM students selected to participate in the clerkship. “The patients we cared for had such a grateful attitude even in such deprived situations. They helped me realize my blessings.”

Prior to the clerkship, Aschenaki, who was born and raised in Ethiopia, considered herself to have a realistic perspective of the environment she was soon to visit and was not hopeful about the conditions of the clinic. However, at the start of her clerkship, she was pleasantly surprised.

Rhonda McIntyre, MD, director of the International Interdisciplinary Elective Program, discussed the importance of international electives. Read Q&A


Dr. Robert Nasiiro, M.D., associate professor of Introduction to Clinical Medicine, was the supervising physician for the interdisciplinary international clerkship elective in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr. Nasiiro describes the medical clinics in detail. Read Q&A


RUSM students provided medical care to thousands of patients in the slums of Kenya, Africa during recent clerkships. Photo Gallery


Read students' firsthand accounts of their experiences during the elective clerkship in Kenya.

“Although the pace was intense, the operations were so well organized. It exceeded my expectations,” said Aschenaki, an eighth-semester student. “I wasn’t sure what to expect about the facilities where we were going to provide medical care. I was amazed how everything worked out, we had everything we needed.”

Aschenaki was a part of a student-led multidisciplinary team that consisted of RUSM and CCN students, two supervising physicians, nurses, a dentist, and a pharmacist. Also, a local organization that provides support for rape victims offered counseling services.

“We were all students teaching each other,” said Aschenaki.
“We tackled issues as a team.”

Some of the patient visits included unsettling moments.

“The first patient on the first day of our clinic had a huge tumor on the left side of his neck and our medical team explained that surgery was the only option,” recalled Aschenaki. “The patient repeatedly responded that he didn’t have money and questioned us what to do. We could only give him ibuprofen for his headaches and urge him to go to the hospital. That was a bitter situation to experience.”

After overcoming her initial feelings of helplessness, Aschenaki was able to redirect her attention towards the 300 to 400 patients that arrived during each of the six days the clinics were open. From Arthritis to malaria, the interdisciplinary team collaborated with each other to derive at the best care options for the patients.

“It was exhausting, but we had to keep going. We knew there were people outside,” said Aschenaki. “By the end of the day we were beat but we had smiles on our faces.”

It was the interdisciplinary model for medical care that made Aschenaki keenly aware of the differences between medicine and nursing. According to Aschenaki, a stark difference between the two disciplines is that nursing focuses on caring for the patient and addressing their emotional needs, as physicians tend to approach the situation as problem-solvers.

During the clerkship, RUSM and CCN students were able to sharpen their clinical skills as they had to rely on their own deductions rather than technology to diagnose patients.

“In most cases, patients we saw had never seen a doctor before, and some were senior citizens,” said Aschenaki. “If we were in the U.S., we’d see most of these patients post their emergency room doctor’s lab orders and CT scans. Here we didn’t depend on technology; we just used the basics as we were taught in school.”

Aschenaki described the international interdisciplinary clerkship elective in Kenya as a “life-changing” experience and is grateful to have found a deeper appreciation for the humane aspect of medicine.