As a pre-Physical Therapy intern, I was one of the first interns to ever come to work in the Therapy Department; therefore, it was a new experience both for me, and the therapists that I worked with. Everyone was very open and excited to teach me everything from their treatment methods to their favorite foods. The amount I learned from each therapist in the department, whether I personally shadowed them or not, is immeasurable. On top of the success I had in my department, the relationships that I made with the other IMA interns was something that made my experience even more amazing. Sharing stories from our days in the hospital, having tough conversations concerning things that we saw, and exploring Kenya together is something that I will always cherish. Altogether, my experience with IMA was rewarding, impactful and life changing in many ways.
Upon my arrival in Mombasa, Kenya, I was completely unaware of the impact that the International Medical Aid internship program would have on me as an individual, and further, an aspiring Physical Therapist. The culture in Kenya was overwhelming, in the best sense. It completely engulfed me and allowed me to explore the ins and outs of a foreign culture and healthcare system. My experience through this internship program provided me the opportunity to break down various barriers, allowing my perspectives and attitudes towards everyday situations to be transformed.
Mombasa, being one of the two cities in Kenya that has major hospitals, has a public teaching hospital called Coast General Provincial Hospital. It is here where my internship began, and where I was able to learn from multiple different therapists to broaden my knowledge on Physical Therapy and foreign healthcare systems. My experience at Coast General, located in an area of extreme impoverishment, provided me with an environment that required me to understand and break down socioeconomic, racial, cultural and language barriers. The way in which Kenyans welcomed me into their country, and made sure I was learning everything that I possibly could, made me have a whole new respect for the way in which they live their day to day lives. Although I was from a different continent, and looked so different than the native population, I never felt as if I was a minority. I have always believed that people should be treated as human beings and not any differently based on their characteristics, and this experience allowed me to gain more perspective on this idea than I ever thought possible. I learned that being open and eager to learn about all groups of people enables individuals to gain insight and understanding of the world as a whole, expanding the capabilities and assets that such people have. I believe that having this desire and drive is important for Physical Therapists working in all settings, and I trust that it will benefit me greatly in the future. Through this perspective, I also learned the impact that a simple smile and wave has when there is a strong language barrier, being calm in situations that are outside one’s comfort zone, and asking tough questions when one does not understand a cultural practice of another group.
In addition to these barriers that I learned to overcome through gaining perspective, the atmosphere of the hospital also presented itself with barriers concerning the resources and population of Coast General. The hospital is extremely under resourced and overcrowded, which gives ample opportunity for high stress situations. This atmosphere creates a barrier in itself, which often requires health professionals to make difficult decisions regarding the number of patients they will see in a given amount of time and the amount of resources they will use. From this, I learned from Kenyan Therapists the importance of patience, and giving their undivided attention to each patient in order to see the best results. There would be many times where the therapists would be called to other wards to see other patients, but they were always sure to stay with their current patients until the very end of their care. From the first moments I knew I wanted to become a Physical Therapist, I always admired the relationships that therapists had with patients based on the level of interaction that they had, and how they genuinely cared about their quality of life. By being able to form relationships in Kenya myself, I was able to practice this characteristic of Therapists that I thought so highly of at a whole new level. Through this experience, I learned how to better understand and adapt to stressful situations by remaining patient, but efficient, in order to give each individual that I form relationships with the proper care that they deserve.
Altogether, my experience in Mombasa, Kenya allowed me to acquire skills and perspectives that I hope to use in order to become the best Physical Therapist I could be. My experiences with this program not only reaffirmed my interest to become a Physical Therapist, but greatly expanded it due to the characteristics of the therapists and hands on work that I was able to observe. I desire to continue to give and learn from each community that I am able to work with, in order to continue expanding my knowledge on various groups and characteristics of people. The perspectives that I gained from this experience will stick with me throughout the course of my future career, where I will continue to learn and build upon them.