Second-year medical student Katrina Rhodes and fourth-year student Marc Levsky prepare to drain an abscess on a patient's chest in Jinotega, Nicaragua.


Have Stethoscope, Will Travel

Long lines of women and children, some dressed in the finest clothes they could afford, greeted 14 Northwestern medical school students who traveled last January to Nicaragua to provide free health care to underserved rural populations.

Participating in a student volunteer program known as the Northwestern University Alliance for International Development (NU-AID), the students set up outpatient clinics in schools, private homes and health care facilities in and near the towns of Matagalpa and Jinotega. Attracting some 1,500 patients in four days, the students — under the guidance of four U.S. physician volunteers — attended to a variety of physical ailments ranging from headaches and fungal infections to malnutrition and the flu.

"We take so much for granted in the United States, especially in regards to receiving health care," says Alice Chang, a fourth-year medical student who attended high school in Costa Rica. "We saw many people who don't even have access to simple medications like aspirin or the financial means to buy vitamins."

Setting out to help "at least one person get better" due to his efforts, fourth-year student Marc Levsky (WCAS96) found that Northwestern had prepared him well even at this stage in his medical education. "From a clinical standpoint, everything I saw was fairly predictable and went smoothly," says Levsky, whose stay in a facility with no running water and spotty electricity did little to dampen his enthusiasm for the volunteer mission. "We did have one patient complaining of abdominal pains. It turned out he had appendicitis, so we quickly put him in a car and sent him to the nearest hospital."

Former NU-AID president Caroline "Min-min" Hwang (WCAS97), who completed her third year in medical school and is now attending the Kellogg Graduate School of Management before returning to complete her medical education, established the student group last year. She had spent a summer in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1998, as an international health fellow, and the experience left her with a need to encourage her peers to have similar experiences. Says Hwang, who now has two NU-AID trips to her credit, "The group's goal is to expose medical students to how medicine is practiced in other countries and to help people who truly need health care services and can benefit from our efforts."

Even those helping the NU-AID participants benefited from the humanitarian mission. Tyler Gluckman (M97), at the time a third-year medicine resident at Northwestern, served as one of NU-AID's physician volunteers and helped supervise the students. Following up a 1998 trip to Honduras to provide medical relief in areas hit by Hurricane Mitch, Gluckman couldn't pass up the opportunity to volunteer again.

"We sometimes get jaded in our day-to-day work," he says. "For me, volunteering reconfirms the reasons why I went into medicine."

— C.S.