For those of you who don’t know me, I am a lifelong Highland member currently living a little further away, as I am completing my second year of pediatrics residency at UNC at North Carolina Children’s Hospital. My entire life I have been surrounded by Highland’s tradition of social justice and a deep faith experience with God. I’ve also had the privilege to have my paternal grandparents (both physicians) model how to practice thoughtful, sustainable, global health for the better part of 40 years. I grew up listening to their stories about the places they have been and the patients they saw, and that has inspired me to practice global medicine.
With the spiritual and financial support of Highland, I spent the month of March in Lilongwe, Malawi at Kamuzu Central Hospital taking care of children. As it is rainy season, it was also malaria season. This means the normal patient census of ~350 patients burgeons to ~650 patients. To put that in perspective, the largest children’s hospital in the states (in Texas, because everything is bigger in Texas) has a capacity of ~465. There are no private rooms in Malawi; just a few large open rooms with 4-8 children in a bed, with moms scattered on benches and the floor surrounding them. There is a 50:1 patient to nurse ratio, with even fewer physicians. Medications, labs, imaging, and even blood are precious commodities that have to be used thoughtfully, when they are available. I saw some of the sickest children I have ever taken care of, and I had to do more chest compressions than I have done in the rest of my career combined. It was considered a good morning if I didn’t start my day with CPR. Every day, I was struck by the lack of resources and staff, while trying to keep children safe and alive. I also had the privilege of teaching medical students and other residents, which makes my contributions more sustainable.
My time in Malawi was transformative. Rev. Anna Holladay, one of my HBC besties, and I have had heated disagreements about the sensation of “being called.” I don’t know if I could ever name feeling called to something. And while I have definitely had other defining moments during my training, I have never had as many moments so formative, both personally and professionally, as I have in this past month. This month in Malawi, I was able to combine my medical knowledge with my passions of experiencing other cultures and caring for people. I plan to go back next year to continue this work of love.
I am so grateful to have had Highland’s support during this past month, and know that I will continue to use the skills and passions I have acquired as I walk in my daily life. ~ Sara Sanders