Benjamin Ostrander is a Bioengineering major ( ’13 ) who volunteered in Shree Vinayak Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal for 6 weeks on a placement with VolNepal, a Nepali organization which organizes volunteer experiences at NGO’s and hospitals.
I was not given very much information about the program before I left, and was a little shocked when I first arrived. It was very unorganized and I was not assigned a mentor at the hospital. Essentially, everything was up to me. I chose how I spent my time, what I wanted to do. Usually, I would go to the hospital and shadow nurses, and occasionally doctors, for about 4 hours per day. Sometimes, there would be very little to do and I would ask the nurses questions and try to learn as much as I could. Other times, I sat down with a doctor and learned about local health problems and medical basics, such as how to take blood pressure. A number of times I was able to observe surgeries. I also gave a health lesson at three different local schools, teaching 6 to 10 different classes each day about the basics of hygiene and nutrition. Finally, I spearheaded my own public health research project, and created a questionnaire to investigate the prevalence of traditional medicine in Nepal.
I spent a lot of time traveling around the city and the country, and hanging out with other volunteers. We would usually walk into Thamel, the tourist district in Kathmandu, for a late lunch after working at the hospital in the morning. On weekends I usually traveled. One weekend I went bungee jumping, another I visited Chitwan and went on an animal safari. My final week in Nepal, I went on a short trek in the Himalayas, which was truly unforgettable. I also spent a lot of time reading, planning volunteer activities, and just walking around Kathmandu.
I learned so much during my six weeks in Nepal. The simple act if living in one of the poorest countries in the world for more than a month changes you. I am now more thankful for what I have, I am more aware of the medical challenges and health problems that many poor countries faced, and I have made some amazing friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. My field experience reinforced my career goals and I am now contemplating applying for a joint MD-MPH program so that I can be active in the field of public health in the future. I am really glad I had this experience. I am currently writing a research paper based on the data I collected about traditional medicine in Nepal, and am serving as the Co-President of an organization called the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children. It is a student run chapter on campus that focuses on raising awareness of public health inequalities and sending volunteers into the field to make a difference.