GOING GLOBAL: From Kalaheo and Punahou High Schools to Yap, an MD5 Adventure

University of Hawai`i medical students Kristin King (who hails from Kalaheo High School) and Justin Grubbs (Punahou) traveled to Yap this summer as part of the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s summer elective program known as MD5. We asked Kristin to fill us in on the journey.

Where did you go; how did you get there?

We were in Yap (a state in the FSM federal states of Micronesia) for two weeks and Saipan for 11 days. It takes eight hours to fly to Guam then two hours to Yap. Then we flew back to Guam from Yap and another 45 minutes from Guam to Saipan. There are only 2 flights a week from Guam to Yap and they all get in or leave at 1 a.m.

Oooh. Sounds like the trip could be expensive.

We were funded by the Hawai`i Area Health Education Center (thanks to Dr. Kelley Withy) and CCPI (Cancer Coalition of the Pacific Islands) because we were doing research in Yap and Saipan. CCPI has started a project to evaluate the needs and capability for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and Justin and I were privileged to be able to be a part of the beginnings of the data collection thanks to Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum. So essentially our trip was both clinical and (public health) research oriented.

Tell us about MD5.

Everyone is required to participate in MD5 as part of curriculum; it’s just some choose to go abroad, other stay and do classes here in Hawai`i, and others do research or shadowing or something of that nature in the Continental U.S., it’s really open, which is nice.

As far as numbers go we had maybe 20 students overall throughout the Pacific Region, including Japan, Micronesia, Philippines, Samoa.

I love culture and I love traveling. While in college I studied abroad and volunteered in India, Egypt/Middle East right before the recent revolution, and in Uganda. Those trips really put a spark in me to want to work abroad medically and learn about cultures that are different from my own, especially when I have no prior knowledge of a place. It’s a clean slate, an adventure if you will. I like to get out of the U.S. as much as I can because it allows me to step back from my own paradigm and learn to integrate new things into my worldview so that I can understand the world and people better. I think that understanding will aid me to serve and care for others in my clinical practice in the future. So when I had the opportunity to go and learn abroad in medicine, how could I say no? I would go anywhere really, but this opportunity afforded me the ability to understand the Micronesian culture, something I knew nothing of, except my encounters at The Hawai`i Homeless Outreach and Medical Education clinic, where the Micronesian people are right in our backyard here in Hawai`i. So it was a privilege and a joy.

How did the trip change you, if it did?

Kristin in the nursery with a newborn whose delivery she witnessed.

In so many ways it did.  I feel more confident professionally. Granted I have much to learn and to study in this next year, but I came out the experience feeling like a doctor. I had the opportunity to witness the delivery of a baby, an abdominal surgery, and meet patients in a OB-GYN clinic. The patient encounters motivated me and empowered me. I needed that extra spark going into my second year with (national) board exams on the way. I now have more depth to my understanding of all that a physician undertakes. We learned about finances and the role government and business play in health care systems while in Saipan, because the financial situation of the hospital is actually quite dismal at the present moment. Through that I gained a sober and useful understanding on the undertakings of a physician beyond knowing how to diagnose namely the ethics of patient care and business.

I also learned about rural health care. I learned the pros and cons to practicing in a rural setting and I learned to appreciate and work within the limitations. Yap is very small and traditional, but organized, so you learn to work within your means and enjoy the simple things in life. Hawai`i does feel much larger now I must admit.

Would you recommend this to other students? Why?

Absolutely, why not!  It’s such a useful way to spend MD5! You learn so much clinically that it really ties together the first year and then some. And there are also some great sites to see and things to do that are also nice to experience like snorkeling with manta rays, (though I had to pay for those on my own). It’s really a gift that it is offered. My only hope is that JABSOM continues to expand its global options and opportunities for students to engage in.

To learn more about JABSOM’s Global Health learning, see 2012-2013 Global Medicine handbook.

Mahalo to MS-2 Kristin King! Our main photograph shows Kristin and Justin with the general surgeon Dr. Gitmos (from Papua New Guinea) before he performed an exploratory abdominal laparotomy.