Uganda experience fuels student’s dream for a medical career


- Ceara Lornie

When UVic microbiology co-op student Julia Hassler was applying for her fourth co-op work term, she knew she wanted to travel. Her previous work terms involved analyzing environmental, food and animal samples in a variety of lab environments, and she was eager to use her skills in a new way.

When she decided to pursue a work term at a medical institute in Uganda, she knew it would be a new and eye-opening experience. She was right—within three weeks of arriving in Uganda, Hassler had delivered her first baby and discovered a real interest in pursuing a medical career.

Hassler’s work term was coordinated by the International Christian Medical Institute and was divided into two main roles. The first part of Hassler’s work term was spent teaching health administration classes to health-care professionals. The second half involved volunteer work at a local hospital, where she quickly learned how to make herself useful in a stressful, busy and dangerous environment.

“The hospitals are understaffed and under-equipped,” she says. “Ugandan women have little access to prenatal care and are asked to bring their own birth kit to the hospital, including basic items like surgical gloves. It really opened my eyes to the need for resources and support.”

During her first few days at the hospital, Hassler helped labouring mothers and assisted the midwives and doctors with births and postnatal care. Soon she was helping women deliver babies on her own. “It was the most incredible and rewarding feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” she says. “It made me realize that I want to pursue a career in obstetrics or gynecology.”

Now in her final year of her bachelor of science degree, Hassler plans to apply to the UVic-based Island Medical Program. Her experience in Uganda has made her appreciate her education even more. “I met people on the streets in Uganda who wanted to go to school but couldn’t for economic reasons. People had a real desire for education. I feel fortunate that I have the opportunity to become a doctor and help people.”

Hassler hopes to do just that by returning to Uganda to volunteer again. “I had an amazing experience in Uganda. I loved getting to know the students and the mothers and hearing their life stories. I know I can make an impact, and that is so inspiring.”


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Keywords: uganda, fuels, studens, dre, co-op

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