Exploring a career in international medicine
Rachel Conley ’19 has long pondered a career in international medicine.
A hands-on medical internship at a hospital in Rwanda moved her from “pondering” it to “planning” it.
Conley followed her desire to learn about other health care systems and gain experience for medical school by interning at the Hospital La Croix Du Sud in Kigali, Rwanda.
“I started most mornings at work shadowing in the surgical ward,” Conley says. “It was a fascinating experience and something I have never seen before. Being in the room during a surgery is a very eye-opening experience and forces you to face the reality of how fragile life is and how important a doctor’s work is. There is no room for error when you are operating on a person. Being able to see that first hand was quite humbling. The surgeons I worked with are incredible and worked hard to make sure I understood everything going on.”
Being in the room during a surgery is a very eye-opening experience and forces you to face the reality of how fragile life is and how important a doctor’s work is. There is no room for error when you are operating on a person. Being able to see that first hand was quite humbling.Rachel Conley ’19
Conley received internship funding through the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career to support her work in Rwanda. The funding, which supports students who pursue unpaid or underpaid internships, is part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths.
Conley was a chemistry teaching assistant at St. Olaf for two years, was the soccer manager in 2017, and researched organometallic chemistry through the St. Olaf Chemistry Department in the fall of 2016. In addition to this work, she shadowed at several hospitals in Minneapolis and has her Certified Nursing Assistant certification.
Conley also participated in the St. Olaf Peruvian Medical Experience, a signature study abroad course for pre-health students. Oles spend three weeks in Cuzco, Peru, assessing patient needs in a public hospital, a homeless shelter, orphanages, and a small village. Through this service-based experience, students learn basic clinical techniques, examine emerging diseases, and study existing health care issues.
Experiences like these are what makes St. Olaf’s rigorous pre-health program so successful at preparing students for admission to medical and dental school. St. Olaf has a strong track record of preparing students for careers in medicine and the health sciences, most notably as physicians, nurses, and physical therapists. Students benefit from a rigorous and broad liberal arts education, one-on-one advising, faculty-student research collaborations, and internships and clinical experiences at top health care organizations.
While the Hospital La Croix Du Sud is similar to medical facilities in the U.S., Conley had the opportunity to aid in cases she had seen little of before and for which medical providers used different procedures.
“It’s also been really impactful to see some illnesses that are less common in the U.S. For example, while I was in the pediatric ward, we had a few cases of malaria, which I had not really been exposed to before,” Conley says.
She also had the opportunity to learn about treatment techniques not commonly used in the U.S. “Something that stuck out that I think is super cool is the use of honey in wound care,” she says. “When a patient had a wound that was badly infected, nurses would put honey in the wound with gauze. It draws out the infection and works as an antibiotic. I’ve seen how well it works.”
The language barrier she experienced during her internship also provided Conley with insight and empathy for patients who experience a similar barrier while receiving health care.
“I worked in a French-speaking hospital, which did make things challenging,” Conley says. “Most of the workers spoke Kinyarwanda and French, with only a little English. Communication was probably the biggest challenge for me. It’s hard to make sure you’re catching everything you’re observing when you don’t understand the language. Luckily, I found some doctors and nurses who were willing to slow down and translate for me.”
Conley graduated early this January, using this spring to work as a medical scribe at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and focus on applying to medical school.
Rachel Conley ’19Working in Hospital La Croix Du Sud reinforced the fact that I want to work in medicine and that this is the right career path for me.
“Working in Hospital La Croix Du Sud reinforced the fact that I want to work in medicine and that this is the right career path for me,” Conley says. “The doctors I worked with were very encouraging and taught me a lot about patient care and how to give the best treatment.”