Hometown: Mountain Lakes, N.J.
Agency: Looma Aboriginal Community, Kimberly, Western Australia.
Why did you apply for this particular internship?
I applied for this internship because I wanted to continue my studies in Poverty and Human Capability while simultaneously servicing a community in the medical field. I was already studying abroad in Australia and had previously known of the poor health standards of the indigenous people of Australia, so I figured this would be the most opportune time to provide whatever services I could to this unique culture. And while my initial intentions were to help the Aboriginal people, I think I learned more from them then they ever could from me, so in that sense it was a win-win situation.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L?
I had previously worked at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic for Poverty 102, and I encountered a similar work environment in the Aboriginal community of Looma. My work allowed me to witness first hand a plethora of poverty-related diseases, further connecting my Poverty and Human Capability readings to real-life experiences. I truly believe that this internship is the zenith of my academic career, and has taught me more than I could ever learn in any lecture hall.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience?
The most unexpected, yet gratifying aspect of my experience was the overwhelming acceptance with which I was met upon arriving in the Looma community. Upon arrival, I met the head councilor and was formally welcomed into the society, and from then on, my interactions with community members flourished. Every individual that came into the health clinic was fascinated by the fact that I was from the United States, and they enjoyed telling me all about their unique culture. The elders, who are the heart of the community, were approachable and open enough to tell me stories of their youth, when they used to live a nomadic life, hunting for their food and healing themselves with use of "bush medicine."
For six weeks this summer I lived in remote Western Australia in an Aboriginal community known as Looma. This community is home to 500 Aboriginals, who are the indigenous people of Australia and are estimated to have inhabited the country for more than 60,000 years. The Aboriginal people have a unique and beautiful culture, but sadly have a higher prevalence of poor health outcomes in comparison to non-indigenous Australians in terms of heart failure, diabetes, kidney complications, depression and infant mortality. In 2005, the Australian government began a "Close the Gap" campaign in which they aim to decrease the disparity in life expectancies between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2020, which at the current moment is nearly a two-decade difference.
I worked in the Looma Health Clinic seven days a week alongside two nurses and an Aboriginal Health Worker (AHW), and each day was a different experience with new challenges to face and lessons to learn. The first time I knew this was going to be a life-changing experience for me was on day one, when I flew in via a four-person aircraft and landed on a dirt, cattle ridden, landing strip. I was welcomed warmly into the community, met both the head community official and head health worker, and from there began my journey into a fresh, unknown, yet welcoming society.
A few days later I got my first sense of how the remoteness of Looma could have adverse effects for individuals in need of immediate medical attention. One patient came into the clinic with symptoms of dizziness and shortness of breath, and upon assessment it was clear that she needed to be evacuated to the nearest hospital. The patient was connected to the oxygen tank and placed into the back of the ambulance, then driven over an hour along a dirt road to meet another ambulance in a "halfway meet." From here, the patient was transported to the nearest hospital, which was another hour and a half away, until at last she was seen by a doctor. Fortunately, the patient recovered well at the hospital, and this was not a serious medical emergency, but this remoteness has the potential to be unforgiving.
While I rode alongside the patient in the back of the ambulance, making small conversation and ensuring that her heart rate and blood oxidation levels were stable, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the remoteness of the community. Had there been a serious medical emergency, the treatment options for the patient would have been limited. The nurses, while highly trained, are not qualified to treat a patient in the same way that a doctor can, and often do not have the proper medications, such as antivenom, needed for treatment.
This early experience was one of many from my six-week internship that has changed my perspectives and shifted my paradigms. Not only have I realized how fortunate I have been to have immediate medical emergency access at my fingertips, but have been introduced to another culture that is not nearly so fortunate.
Just a week later a pregnant woman came into the clinic at 5 a.m., and by 5:30, a new baby boy had been delivered by one of the local nurses, with a midwife on speaker phone talking the patient through the birth. A live birth was something I never would have expected to be a part of during my time in the community, but both the newborn and I were lucky--in different ways. I felt fortunate to be a part of something so eye-opening and awe-inspiring, and the newborn was lucky that there were no complications in the birth, as there was not proper treatment ready had something gone wrong.
This experience has been the capstone of my learning thus far in my academic career, as I have learned more about the medical field and myself than I ever could have imagined. I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work in a remote area health clinic. And I cannot stress enough how much this experience has shaped my outlook on life, and confirmed my desire to go into the medical field.