Darren Smith ’12 and Alex Sipilief ’12 spent the summer in the Pacific on a different sort of tropical adventure. The two seniors helped administer medical care in Fiji through a program set up by Projects Abroad.
Projects Abroad is an organization that coordinates volunteer work in countries around the world, offering assistance in areas such as archaeology, teaching, and human rights. After Smith searched and came across the organization, the pair looked at the programs it offered.
Deciding they wanted to do something in health care outside of the United States, the two were able to obtain volunteer positions in the Pacific island nation.
“What originally inspired me to go abroad was my interest in helping people who do not or can not afford medical care,” says Smith. “I believe everyone should have the comfort of knowing they can get medical help when needed. My past EMT experience in the States has shown me a little bit of how hospitals and certain medical procedures are handled in America.”
“We wanted to get outside the U.S. to see what health care is like in other countries,” says Sipilief, who wanted a position that would give him a lot of hands-on experience.
Most days, Smith and Sipilief greeted patients as they arrived and gathered their medical folders while they waited to get triaged. They then assisted taking vital statistics, such as blood pressure and sugar concentration, before shadowing the doctor as the patients were treated. They also helped splint a leg, bandaged third-degree burns, transferred patients, and administered injections and nebulizers under supervision.
“Many of the patients come to the health center with cold symptoms,” says Sipilief. “It was unusual to see at first because many of the problems that the Fijian patients have are easily treated in the U.S.”
The doctors and nurses also have to make due with what they have, Smith notes. This often means sharing their supplies and tools, such as batteries and stethoscopes, and using what is around to help treat patients, such as cardboard for a leg splint.
“There is a desperate need for doctors in Fiji. Some days there was only one doctor at the heath center and more than 200 patients,” Smith adds. “This summer’s experience sparked my interest in returning when I’m a doctor.”
Smith is a biology major with a minor in pre-health. He is president of Chi Phi, sits on the Inter-Fraternity Council, a Druid, a volunteer firefighter, a board member of the American Red Cross, and works at the Bristol Fieldhouse.
Sipilief, a mathematics major and a pre-health minor, is the treasurer of Chi Phi and a volunteer firefighter in Geneva.