A physician assistant studies major, Stevenson worked for a month in rural South African clinics and sites in Durban, a major city on the country’s eastern cape. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science from Grand Valley in 2005 and learned about the South African program at a national PAS conference last year in San Francisco.
“I’ve always wanted to practice medicine abroad and always assumed I would have to go through my church, on a mission,” she said. “Then I found out about this program, and realized I could make the experience one of my clinicals and get credit for it.
“I went into the medical field because I want to help people and I thought this would be a unique opportunity to practice medicine in a part of the world where the need for medical care is the greatest.”
Wally Boeve, PAS faculty member and program director, said Stevenson is among a handful of students who chose overseas locations for rotations. Toward the end of their master’s degree program, all PAS students participate in 10 rotations that total 2,500 clinical hours, giving them opportunities to study emergency medicine, surgery, family medicine and other specialties.
Stevenson was among 20 American students (most were first-year medical students) traveling to Durban, a city of 2.5 million people. They spent two weeks there, working in hospitals or clinics, and two weeks in rural clinics that were three hours from Durban, near the border of Mozambique.
“Durban was fairly modern with Internet cafes and the largest mall in the southern hemisphere,” she said. “Then we went to small towns that had no running water and we stayed in smaller huts.”
She helped treat people for hypertension and heart disease but was also exposed to health problems associated with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. “The majority of patients we saw had AIDS or HIV and probably 80 percent of babies we delivered were born infected with HIV,” she said.
During her stay in South Africa, nearly all of the country’s public workers, including nurses, were striking for better pay and work conditions. “Sometimes, we were pulled out of clinics because of threats of violence,” said Stevenson, a native of Midland.
Her experiences went beyond the learned knowledge of treating patients. “There is the knowledge you gain from working in the clinics and hospitals, but you really come away with a better understanding of how the culture, society and politics affect health care,” Stevenson said.
Her stories and excitement about South Africa have apparently spread throughout the PAS program. “There are a few students who want to do something similar later this year,” Stevenson said.