Q&A with Dr. Robert Nasiiro


Dr. Robert Nasiiro, M.D., associate professor of Introduction to Clinical Medicine, was the supervising physician for the interdisciplinary international elective clerkship in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr. Nasiiro describes the medical clinics in detail and reflects on the opportunities students had to apply and strengthen their clinical skills.

RUSM: What was your role as supervising physician?

Dr. Nasiiro: The students provided the primary care and I was onsite for consultation with the medical teams. As the physician, my role was to closely supervise the medical team (medical and nursing students) during examination of patients and oversee and countersign prescriptions issued.

Also, since I’m a native of the East African region and have been to Nairobi several times, the environment wasn’t a novelty for me. I was able to offer guidance on how to navigate the region and adjust to the culture.

RUSM: How do you think students adjusted to the new environment and the overall experience?

Dr. Nasiiro: The first day was completely humbling. Students were in a situation where the land, the people and the language were very unfamiliar. It helped that the medical clinic sites were in enclosed structures. By the second or third day, students had a sense of purpose and understanding of what to do. The students united quickly with each other in a short time and performed well.

RUSM: Can you describe what it was like to provide medical care at the clinics?

Dr. Nasiiro: For about eight days we provided medical care in different slums in Nairobi. Our medical teams, which consisted of a RUSM and Chamberlain College of Nursing (CCN) student, would see between 300 to 400 patients daily. Students would address a range of conditions. The most common ailments were respiratory and skin infections and abdominal pain. Other frequent illnesses included malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

RUSM: How did you and the students maintain such an aggressive pace?

Dr. Nasiiro: There was a system in place that worked quite well. Each patient was initially screened by a member from a local charity and a RUSM student. After the initial screening, the medical teams examined the patient directed to them (an interpreter was available to assist the students in communicating with their patients). The teams were also able to dispense medicine to patients as prescribed.

To prevent burnout, the students were able to participate in a one-day safari at the end of the clerkship.

RUSM: How do you think students benefited most from this clerkship?

Dr. Nasiiro: The interaction among the different disciplines that were represented was a great experience for RUSM students. In a different environment and over unfamiliar problems, students learned to work with medical personnel they weren’t acquainted with such as nurses, a dentist, and a pharmacist, as well as counselors from the local charity that addressed incidents of physical abuse.

Also, any barriers that may have existed between medical and nursing students were no longer there. Students learned the value of collaboration as they examined, diagnosed and treated patients without diagnostic facilities and equipment.