Joel with several medical students at bedside in Kibuye Hope Hospital, Burundi

Pediatric rounds at Kibuye Hope Hospital

The title of this post poses a challenging question. How do you help develop a doctor in Burundi? When I have questions like: How do you prune a mango tree? or How do you execute a hammer throw with a frisbee?, I can count on Google or YouTube to help me out. But when you want to do something in a new way or for a new purpose, a Google search may not help. Believe me, I just tried it. (If you were wondering about the tree and the frisbee throw, go ahead and follow the links above but please come back to this post when you’re done.)


Lessons From Weakness

Before we even came to Burundi, we told our friends and colleagues and missions supervisors that we really didn’t have a good handle on how to help these medical students transition into responsible excellent doctors. Our resumés don’t reflect a long history of medical education or academic positions in our previous life. Teaching is a part of most doctors’ lives but doing so cross-culturally is another story. Despite the minimum of professional qualifications, we were invited to join the fledgling Faculty of Medicine and look for ways to contribute. And that is what we’ve been doing now for a little over 21 months.

We’ve learned some things along the way:

You give what you have, not what you don’t have. God works in our weaknesses and multiplies our offerings.

We are not alone. Many have walked this road before us and others are even now joining the educational work.

Students are often learning when we least expect it. There are teachable moments in the waiting and in-between times.

People are generous. Thousands of dollars and hours have been given to see these students succeed. Many of you have been a part of that and we thank you for your investment on behalf of the students and patients who have benefited.

Joel in front of chalkboard teaching group of medical students at Kibuye, Burundi

Teaching with an old school chalkboard

A New Focus

For the last 8 years, Hope Africa’s medical work has been centered at Kibuye Hospital. Kibuye is a small community in central Burundi and the hospital has a reputation for competent and compassionate care dating back to its founding in 1946. Last year, the Van Norman Clinic (VNC) opened in Bujumbura, the capital and largest city in Burundi. Both of these medical facilities play a role in the training of our medical, nursing, midwife, physiotherapy, and other health science students. Students who are doing clinical work in Kibuye do so as interns- living in a dorm and spending several weeks with their classmates in intensive rotations. The VNC provides students with an extern experience that allows for clinical work and mentoring part of the day, courses often in the afternoon, and then return to their homes in the evening.

Hope Africa University has been blessed with a large number of medical volunteers over the years. We are currently hosting Dr. Jerry Rusher and his R.N. wife Lilly Ann from Washington state. They are teaching midwives in Kibuye. Dr. Pat Rees (also from Washington) has joined us in Bujumbura to teach and perform surgery. Dr. Pat represents a bit of a transition for our medical volunteers. She had previously served at Kibuye Hope Hospital but was asked to work at the VNC on this visit. Kibuye Hope Hospital will eventually need more volunteers to teach students and care for patients but our current focus for visitors is developing the VNC as a significant medical presence in Burundi. The McCropder group of doctors will be focused on the development of Kibuye Hope Hospital so that leaves margin for visiting professors to help in the city.

Dr. Patricia Rees works with nurse on dressing change for Burunian man's injured foot

Do You Have A Gift To Offer?

Hopefully, this post gives you a better idea of what some of our medical education efforts look like. We believe that keeping you informed helps you to pray informed prayers for the work here. Thank you to those who will offer that gift of prayer.

While the VNC construction is mostly finished, we still need equipment for training our students and for providing the best care possible for the patients who come to us. A current need is an ultrasound machine to serve our growing obstetric population as well as patients who need abdominal ultrasounds. Thanks to the efforts of generous friends, we are able to purchase a small ultrasound to meet our immediate need. But we are now beginning the fundraising for a larger second machine from SonoSite’s charitable division. They are offering us two machines for the price of one- one for Kibuye and one for VNC. We’ll be posting more details about that effort in the next few weeks but these two ultrasounds have a pricetag of about $30,000.

Finally, we are always interested in having visiting doctors and other health professionals come to Burundi to participate in the teaching and patient care. If you or someone you know would like more information on our current needs and opportunities, please email me and we will discuss the possibilities. With your partnership, we will continue to figure out what it means to develop doctors in Burundi…and the process will develop something new in us as well. Join us!