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Hoffman Travel Opportunity Experience

Esther Rodriguez and Aaron Krych for the Hoffman Humanitarian Clerkship for Third- and Fourth-Year MMS Students

Fourth-year Mayo Medical School students Esther Rodriguez and Aaron Krych arrived in the fishing village of Elmina, Ghana, West Africa in the spring of 2005. Awaiting them was a wall of heat, massed bodies in need, and glaring contrasts in wealth and poverty.

It was just what they were after: life-real, raw, life and an international medical challenge to deepen the skills they had learned and refined over the past four years at Mayo Medical School. The Elmina clinic that was their base had no lab, no doctor - Ghanaian doctors had not been paid for at least six months, so the one at Elmina had left - limited water for hand washing, and an unreliable electric freezer that constantly threatened the safety of the refrigerated vaccine.

The two have since married and are serving residencies on the Rochester campus of Mayo Clinic. In October 2006, their first child, a son, was born. Says Aaron, recalling their African experience: "We really believed strongly that to be the kind of humane physicians we wanted to be, we needed a real-time, real-life experience of global health care challenges - and the Hoffman clerkship made it all possible. Without Mayo's financial support and willingness to help make arrangements, we couldn't have had this fantastic experience of learning to practice medicine in suboptimal conditions - and experiencing firsthand the courage, friendship and resourcefulness of our African hosts. It was just phenomenal."

The Elmina health center consisted of a family planning unit, a maternity unit, an outpatient department, and a fairly large dispensary. Aaron and Esther spent their time working in the fishing village of Elmina, and the 25 surrounding villages in the Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem district. Seated at a card table, they treated skin complaints, diarrhea, malaria, parasitic and fungal diseases. Says Aaron: "Any patient whose story was not consistent with diarrhea, malaria or pregnancy was sent along to the larger, more expensive Regional Hospital in the city of Cape Coast (approximately 15 kilometers from Elmina)."

By American standards of living, Esther and Aaron were "roughing"it. But by African standards, they were being treated to the lifestyle of tribal chiefs. They had one large tub of water to last the week for all of their drinking, bathing and toilet needs. The electricity was spotty, and the pillowcases often contained a reptilian surprise - a house gecko ready to scrabble up the walls on its sticky toe pads. Their concrete house had screens on the windows, good doors, a nice roof and a kitchen - and a toilet that would flush if filled with enough water. A village woman cooked for them.

Says Esther: "When we applied for the Hoffman Clerkship, we quoted Pearl S. Buck because she fully captured a core value of ours. She wrote: 'The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.' We've now experienced the truth Buck writes about, thanks to the Hoffman Clerkship. Our hearts are changed. They are fuller and perhaps a bit gentler, and we are forever grateful for this experience."

Read more about Esther and Aaron Krych's Elmina experience

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