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International reach extends to Kenya

Partners In Caring, Medicine In Kenya (PICMIK)  is not your average study abroad.  Students on the seven-day journey conduct medical research by day and camp in tents each night.  The demands of the program test both passion and preparation.

Dr. Nancy Rice, who leads the program, said part of the goal is to “provide a niche in that community’s development.” To build that relationship, students work in outpatient clinics staffed mostly with Kenyan nurses. Students split into smaller groups, each led by a physician. Together they serve 750-1000 people over the course of six days. While helping patients data is collected to investigate if high blood pressure results from extended lifespans. This makes the force of development two-fold.

The rural nature and economic challenges of the area prevent locals from readily accessing medical care. The program takes place at the base of a mountain between two national parks. It is occupied by mostly subsistence farmers, and lies directly on an elephant migration path, causing an occasional crop-trampling problem among other challenges. In past trips, PICMIK assisted by bringing school supplies and donating microscopes to the clinics.

One of the most productive forms of support is buying from the local the local basket weaving businesses. Basket weaving is competitive because it remains one of the only ways women can participate in the economy.

The students help other students, too. Most of the translators are Kenyan English students. Learning goes both ways.

Students prepare by completing a one-credit-hour course the semester before the program to study Kenyan culture. Studying helps, but “It’s nothing like the realization of actually being there,” said Rice. For her, that initial realization is a critical component of the course. Culture shock forces student’s minds to expand to encompass these new experiences. It can also enhance the feeling of purpose that drives the partnership.

One tremendous thing PICMIK students learn is an understanding of other cultures. Developed nations have many advantages, but some of those conveniences prevent us from enjoying simplicity.

Experiencing Kenya changes the lives of the students who join in the program. Rice reports that when the students return they act “more like medical students” and are more confident and cultured. It causes students to mature.

PICMIC represents an opportunity to grow as a person and a budding medical professional. For more information about the opportunity contact Dr. Rice at nancy.rice@wku.edu

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