Many times students are offered internship opportunities that not only increase knowledge in their field of study but also provide unique cultural experiences. When Pacific offered Morgan Fry ’12 a chance to travel to Malawi for a physical therapy clinical internship, his first thoughts were “that sounds awesome, but I have no idea where that is located.” Malawi is a country in Southern Africa, east of Zambia, northwest of Mozambique. Initially Fry spent two months in the city of Blantyre working at a small private practice, Cure International Hospital, before going to a large government hospital, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. He recently shared the highlights of his internship in Malawi at a presentation for students, faculty, alumni, and staff. Fry showed vivid images of an unfamiliar culture with people living in small huts near a fishing village, walking the roads with club foot and fields ablaze in the background. “There were fires everywhere when I would walk to the hospital. I would see about three of them during my 25 minute walk. Several people walked around with club foot because of poor access to health care,” said Fry.
While Fry adjusted to his new surroundings, he did find familiarity within Cure International Hospital. He explained, “The hospital had the same technology and equipment you would see here. It is very similar to the equipment I worked with on campus. Unfortunately, there are not enough surgeons for every single person to get the highest quality surgery.” One photo, taken in front of the hospital, had a banner just below the hospital sign that read ‘Adults pay a fee so that children can walk for free.’ This is a motto that Fry said, “redistributed income from adult surgeries to perform surgery on the children for free. This is one of the few hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa that performs joint replacement surgeries.”
Fry had many notable interactions with physicians and patients at the hospital. He said, “Physicians at Cure would encourage me to come see any surgery I was interested in and this was an incredible opportunity to see them work. When I was in surgery, they encouraged me to ask as many questions as I wanted, but in turn they would ask me just as many questions. The people in Malawi are incredible. They are very social, approachable and always interested in talking to you.” His most memorable moments happened in an inpatient pediatric setting working with children. Adults in Malawi do speak English but many of their children cannot, making communication difficult without a translator. “I was lost without an interpreter to help me communicate with the children. If I didn’t have one it just turned into a really interesting game of charades. I had to be very cautious because these children never tell you if they are in pain. They are tough and never complain,” commented Fry.
International work is always eye-opening for students. Especially when they see photos from Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where Fry took pictures of hospital beds being propped up with bricks. He told students, “No one was going to tell you if you were giving substandard care to a patient. Often times anything goes and I really had to keep myself in check because it makes you aware of whether you are giving the best quality care to the patient. We would have power outages but the staff didn’t stop treating patients. You change the way you think when describing methods to patients. For example, I told a patient that they should sit in a chair, but they didn’t have one in their home. I had to develop a different method on how I could better help my patients because of their circumstances.”
Fry continued to tell the students about patient interactions and how they help build trustful relationships and as a result influence him to become a better practitioner. “I want to be a better doctor to my patients. When I worked with patients everyone would come over and encourage each other. It became a much more collaborative effort and it broke down the barrier between physician and patient. The experience is much cooler than what you would get in the U.S. There was a personal feel to it and it didn’t seem like I was just a physician, with a set of exercises and then move on to the next person. I felt more invested with these people, their goals, and it was more of an interpersonal interaction,” said Fry.
Students asked Fry several questions during his presentation inquiring if he would go back to Malawi in the future. “Absolutely, although I don’t know when. I hope to go back at some point. Working in any international setting is such an asset to your career; several interviews I had with employers here in the U.S. ask if I have experience working overseas.” He encouraged students to take these opportunities because they provide rewarding experiences with patients and help change their perception on how to conduct oneself as a physical therapist.
By Ben Herrera '10, '13