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Deepening a Commitment to Serve

March 28, 2017

By Roberta Perry
Drexel University is well known for its co-op experience, but it is also deeply interested in expanding its students’ education globally through its very robust work and study abroad program. Nikola Fistrovic decided she wanted an unusual summer experience and that included international travel. This health sciences sophomore wanted a hospital work experience in an impoverished area for a very specific time frame and found something that suited her with Gap Medics. They provide this specific work experience worldwide to students interested in a career in healthcare. “I traveled to Tanzania with a group of people who were 18 to 24 years old—I think most of them were around 24—and most from the UK and Europe. We basically lived together, then went to the hospital to work.”
The work she would be doing, she hoped, would give her a sense of how different it is to work in a hospital in an underdeveloped country versus the one she worked in here. Fistrovic worked in the pediatric department her first week and in obstetrics and gynecology the second. “It was just so eye opening,” she said. “They have beds and basically nothing else. Patients are not hooked up to monitors; they make it work with the bare minimum. Even the babies, they have them wrapped up in a bunch of blankets which people made and they’re not hooked up to anything. They don’t have oxygen, nothing,” Fistrovic continued.
There are two incidents she saw that stuck with her even almost a year later. When working in pediatrics, most times, the mothers of the newborns would come in and hold and feed their babies. “But there was this one baby whose mother never came in. The nurses would go to the mom and said, ‘You have to come in. You have to feed your baby. You have to take care.’ But she just wouldn’t.” Situations like this are common according to Fistrovic; mothers sometimes don’t want anything to do with their babies. “It’s really sad.” But not all of her experiences were that way. A boy came into the hospital very yellow and sick. He had malaria, something on the decline (unlike HIV/AIDS) in the Iringa region where she was staying. “One day he comes in with malaria, and the next day he was up and energetic. It was amazing to see.” While they have medicine to give for things like malaria, when it came to pain medication for child birth, it was a different story.
“I got to see five C-sections and one live birth,” Fistrovic shared. “They’ll give women something to numb them from the waist down, but there’s no pain medication.” A woman, whose delivery she witnessed, was given too much numbing medication and began seizing. “She was foaming at the mouth—I have never—the doctor cut into her so fast and got the baby out right away. She was okay, but it was crazy.”
When asked if she came away with a greater appreciation for things in her life, her answer was twofold. Of course she values the things we have here in this country more, but she also developed admiration for the people she met who work in the hospital. “Those doctors are so knowledgeable and they make everything work with minimal supplies.”
Fistrovic wants to become a physician assistant and, while enjoying her experience here at Drexel, is also looking at graduate schools already. It is not surprising that she is pursuing a career in healthcare—she was a certified nursing assistant before enrolling in CNHP’s health sciences program and her mother, a nurse, also provided incentive in her pursuit. She is enjoying all her classes and is impressed and grateful for the opportunity she has here at Drexel. “In anatomy, we have the gross lab where we get to work with cadavers. Not a lot of schools get that,” she pointed out. In addition to the facilities, Fistrovic remarked that her professors are a big part of the successful education she’s getting. Though being a member of the Drexel swim team helps her with keeping a routine, she feels she sometimes needs additional attention. “I think my professors truly do care about me and want me to have the best experience. They will go out of their way to get me extra time in the lab or extra tutoring time.”
The future holds a lot of promise for this go-getter. The job market for physician assistants, however competitive, is still growing and offering so many specialties. With the experience of Gap Medic Fistrovic has under her belt, a whole new realm of possibilities has opened up for her.