Sierra Simmons Personal Reflection – Making an Impact in Masindi

Center for Global Health
May 02, 2023
Sierra Simmons (far right in purple), a MUSC College of Pharmacy student completing a project through an award funded by the Center for Global Health in Uganda, poses for a photo with other local team members.
Sierra Simmons (far right in purple), a MUSC College of Pharmacy student completing a project through an award funded by the Center for Global Health in Uganda, poses for a photo with other local team members.

Sierra Simmons is a College of Pharmacy student at MUSC. She was awarded a Center for Global Health Student & Trainee Travel Grant in the spring of 2023 to pursue a project with OneWorld Health in Masindi, Uganda. View more photos of Sierra's time in Uganda in this Flickr photo gallery.

During my time in Uganda, I experienced a different kind of world. It was the first time I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into a setting where everything was new and different. I began relearning things that I had known how to do my whole life. How to raise your eyebrows, murmur in agreement and nod your head while speaking to someone. Something as simple as a conversation with a stranger had a whole new set of rules I was unaware of. Sierra Simmons, working on a project in Uganda, cares for a local child.

Rounding in the hospital allowed me to gain strength in this rapport with physicians before I set out into the community.

Walking in the dirt roads of Masindi was quite different than the rainbow row I was accustomed to back home. Everyone was working on homes and taking care of their children while their children were taking care of their livestock. One of the first sites we set up at during our outreach week had a line wrapped around the small building. Mothers carrying small children with them. Small children who were carrying tinier ones with them. A grouping of patients lined up outside allowing us to see a total of 1,032 patients within five days. We had a total of three providers: one from MUSC and two from Uganda. Also, two medical students assisted in assessing patients.

The impact we were able to make in these people’s lives was more important than I realized. Some patients had not seen a physician in more than 10 years. They were averaging blood pressures of 210/180 and did not understand why they needed medication because they felt fine. This misunderstanding led to an opening where I was able to make a huge impact in patient education. Taking time with each patient and helping them understand the importance of healthcare was vital. Instilling confidence by applying medications like eye drops or suspended medications allowed more connection through our interaction. Fathers and mothers were able to discern how to use a dropper that they may have never seen before.

While I feel I was able to teach the community so much about knowledge I had during this week, something I didn’t account for was how much I would learn from the hospital physicians the other three weeks. The two physicians in the hospital cover everywhere. Some days it is only one of them working. They round in the inpatient wards and maternity wards; are called into the emergency department for something drastic; and anywhere else they might be needed. A laboring mother may need to receive a cesarian and they will be pulled into surgery. They truly do it all. Their overall knowledge of tropical disease states, updated guidelines and hands-on experience was admirable in a setting with paper documents and at time limited internet access.

I would encourage other students to take a month at Masindi Kitara during their rotations. This was my last rotation and I truly believe it helped solidify my clinical skills while allowing me to act on my own. In contrast, two medical students joined us during our second week for their first rotation ever. I remember the nerves on your first rotation and being asked to make decisions and jump in. I think this environment allowed them to succeed and gain confidence. Watching them from the beginning of their time to their third week, I could see how much they had grown.

Sierra Simmons cares for local residents in Masindi, Uganda, while on a Center for Global Health trainee grant.

I believe that the relationship with Masindi Kitara is a great environment for students to learn from the physicians and experience a different culture. I also think it is a beneficial way for students to teach the community about health care while promoting the importance of medicine.