WASHINGTON, PA (Dec. 9, 2019) —Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) students Caitlyn Brenner and Lena DiFulvio learned that independence doesn’t have to mean you’re on your own. The pair planned their Magellan Project trips to Africa this past summer as a joint venture.
During their three-week project, Caitlyn and Lena both volunteered and observed everyday practices at a medical clinic in Limuru, Kenya, specializing in minor surgeries. Their projects, however, took different focuses.
Caitlyn, a chemistry and philosophy major, chose to study the effects of implicit bias within the medical field. She became interested in this topic after various medical shadowing experiences and taking Professor of Philosophy Dr. Michael Wolf’s bioethics class at W&J.
Lena, a French major, chose to study how the local Kenyan diet impacts the medical issues that the clinic’s visitors have.
While in Kenya, Caitlyn and Lena learned that there were more than 70 different and unique familial tribes in the country, each with their own language. Nurses at the clinic working with Caitlyn taught her a lot about the local culture surrounding medical treatment.
“Although their medical practices differ from our own, they did not judge us,” Caitlyn said. Along with herself and Lena, many of the doctors were from the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe.
While observing how those volunteers reacted to the way the Kenyan doctors performed, Caitlyn noted that many were hesitant to accept these different ways.
She said, “I think that we tend to think that our way of doing things is always the best way, so much so that sometimes we can be blind to learning something novel from others.”
Lena also experienced a different approach to medical care.
“Working at the clinic opened my eyes to the levels of empathy here versus there. In Kenya, they got straight to the point with their patients without any bedside manner,” she said.
They took a break from the structured practices at the clinic to visit local sites and gain an understanding of how Kenyans live day-to-day. After visiting various spots like the market and a tea farm, Lena found that most of the locals’ ailments are more lifestyle-related than diet-related.
“A lot of American health problems are with our food. Since Kenyans don’t tend to eat processed foods like we do, I found that their health problems come more from their lifestyle choices,” she said.
While discussing going on the Magellan with a friend, Caitlyn said, “It made me more confident to branch out and try more things that I may have been more hesitant to explore on my own.”
After W&J, both students plan to attend medical school. Caitlyn said the experience changed the way she thinks about healthcare for the better, and Lena is now more aware of the levels of empathy she gives while around patients.