Austin Thomas Reflection – Creation of an atrial fibrillation screening, diagnostic, and management protocol in a rural Ugandan hospital

Center for Global Health
May 22, 2024
M. Austin Thomas poses with colleagues while on a global health project in Masindi, Uganda. Submitted photo

M. Austin Thomas is a College of Medicine student. He was awarded a Center for Global Health Student & Trainee Travel Grant in early 2024 to pursue a project with OneWorld Health in Masindi, Uganda. View more photos of his time in Uganda in this Flickr photo gallery.

Embarking on a global health trip to Uganda was more than just a journey across continents; it was a profound immersion into a world of resilience, empathy, and medical challenges unlike any other I had experienced in the states. As I reflect on my experiences shadowing healthcare professionals, rotating through hospitals and rural clinics, and contributing to a quality improvement project, each journal entry serves as a poignant reminder of the universal language that is human compassion.

From the moment we touched down in Entebbe after a journey that seemed to last weeks, we were enveloped in the love and kindness of everyone we met. Our driver, Joel, greeted us with a bear hug and expressed how delighted he was that we were there. The next day, we embarked on the four-hour journey to Masindi and settled into our accommodations at the hospital guest house. Anticipation mingled with exhaustion, giving way to a sense of purpose as we explored the hospital grounds and met the local healthcare staff.

The hospital in Masindi became our home base for the next months. Half the team, myself included, split up and traveled north to the rural town of Bweyale. The clinic, nestled against the backdrop of Uganda’s breathtaking landscape, was equipped with an outpatient department, general medicine wards, and a maternity unit. As we rounded in Bweyale, the breadth and depth of healthcare delivery in Uganda became increasingly apparent. Watching Dr. JP assume the roles of internist, pediatrician, and OB/GYN all at once, and managing cases ranging from a 14-year-old girl battling cerebral malaria to the unexpected occurrence of typhoid fever in a 4-month-old infant, deepened my appreciation and underscored the critical importance of accessible, quality healthcare.

One afternoon while in Bweyale, our experience extended to the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement—home to some 100,000 people fleeing conflict from neighboring Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan. As we engaged with refugees and aid workers alike, I found myself overcome by a mix of emotions from sadness and frustration to admiration and hope. The power of solidarity and compassion became tangible, transcending language and cultural barriers.

Shortly after, we left Bweyale and headed back south to Masindi to meet up with the rest of the team. The remainder of the trip was similar to our first week and filled with its own highs and lows. But amidst the challenges, there were also moments of joy and connection that left an indelible mark. Whether sharing meals with locals, playing soccer with children in the town, or simply relaxing on the porch looking over the Ugandan countryside, these moments served as a reminder of the universal language of humanity that binds us all together.

As the days turned into weeks, my experience took on new dimensions, encompassing not only the provision of medical care but also the pursuit of education, innovation, and community empowerment. Whether participating in outreach clinics or contributing to quality improvement projects, each endeavor was a testament to the power of collaboration and collective action in advancing global health equity.

But perhaps the most profound aspect of my journey was the personal growth and reflection it inspired. In navigating the complexities of healthcare delivery in a resource-limited setting, I discovered strengths and resilience within myself that I never knew existed. And in forging connections with patients, colleagues, and communities, I found a sense of purpose and fulfillment that will stay with me long after the conclusion of this trip. As I bid farewell to Uganda and the friends and colleagues who became like family, I carry with me a deep sense of gratitude for the experiences shared, the lessons learned, and the connections forged along the way.