My Yale Experience

by Leonard Rotich, Medical Student at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

There is a special time in everyone’s life where they would feel the desire to get out of their comfort zones, and experience something new that will help them grow deeper. That time came to my life when the opportunity to be part of the International Student Exchange Program was opened for me. Unfortunately for me, it took 4 years of serious hard work to appear on the interview for the program which I passed. Although I was initially set to go to Northwestern University, when Yale asked to take two more students, it was an easy decision when I was asked if I wished to come to Yale.

The pre-travel preparations were quite stressful. I thought that if this was only the pre-departure preparation, how could I make it through the departure, arrival, and living preparation. To make matters worse, it coincided with our exam time, I had to fill in a multitude of papers and then get all these vaccines that I had never thought would be important, then Schedule a Visa interview at the US embassy, attend interview and finally pick up my visa.

Travel day came and just like many other travels, you pack your suitcase, you say goodbye, you forget at least 3 things that are important, and you get on a plane… to fly away from what you have known as home your whole life. For me, New Haven would be what I called home for the next 4 weeks. On the 15th of July 2017, I caught a plane to the USA without knowing what I was going to.  I was not sure who I would meet, what cultures I would encounter or where I would visit during my exchange – hence, I was anxious, at the same time as enthusiastic, about what would follow. Leaving my family, home, friends and everything familiar to me was something that I didn’t really think a lot about before I left. I’m not kidding when I say I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I stepped out of the plane at JFK airport!

Being an exchange student for the summer at Yale University, was an extraordinary event in my career path, as it gave me a mosaic of wonderful and fulfilling experiences. My experience of being part of this program enriched my knowledge, enhanced my skills and honed my values as a student, as a future doctor, as a person and as a citizen of the world.

As I stepped into New Haven, it seemed that almost everything was entirely novel: classmates, lecturers, style of teaching and learning, housemates, friends, lifestyle, and even food. My academic classes were a mind-opening and diversity-driven experience for me. But I was impressed how everything had been so perfectly planned for us. Nickia Corley, Anne Kellett and Tracy Rabin must have spent sleepless nights trying to get all this setup. Everyone at every corner of the Hospital we were to visit, including the medical students and librarians were expecting us and it was so easy to blend in.

I was assigned to the Donaldson service which deals mainly with infectious diseases. The first week was pretty challenging as I had to get used to many things, ranging from, the topography of the hospital and the city, the language, presentation styles, the electronic system and I had to deal with Jet lag meaning I was sleepy most of the day and fail to catch sleep at night. The nights were pretty short as the sun set at 8:30pm and it was out by 6:30am.  The first two weeks ran pretty fast without me really realizing.

The Ward rounds were quite early at 7:30am so we had to be in ward by 6:30 to pre-round on patients we had clerked. The biggest difference between the patients and Ugandan patients was that they had a multitude of co-morbidities, most of the noninfectious, like DM, Chronic Kidney disease, Cardiac disease e.t.c. This meant that a patient would be visited by a multitude of consultants every day and the care was more holistic, with all investigations available at a click of a button. I was amazed by how non-infectious diseases underlie the bulk of medical conditions including the infectious ones.

My elective really started in the third week and this coincided with the arrival of Andrew Silverman, a Yale medical student. I had been in the ward for two weeks already when Andy joined us together with a new team of attending physician, resident and an intern. He was so easy to get along with and he was so helpful in guiding me through the presentations in the ward, taking me to the different learning sessions, such as the Student reports, radiology conferences, noon conferences and simulation classes. The team at Donaldson made me feel a part of them, and we had some interesting teaching sessions and the different conferences really enriched my medical knowledge.

There were wonderful opportunities to grow culturally and meet new people. Under the guidance of one of the Yale students, we had a tour of New Haven, Yale campus and New York City. I can’t thank Dennis Wang enough for being such a good tour guide. We also had several dinners with our housemates and some of the other visiting medical students and one at the home of one of our Supervisors, Dr Tracy Rabin. At our residence, I was blessed to share the same house with visiting students from different countries; Spain, Mexico, England, China and Sweden. We had a lot of fun as a family and the house director was so sweet.

The food served was never my favorite, but I had no way to avoid it. The food is mostly American such as fried chicken, pasta, cheese. American food is not bad but Asian food is the closest to home food and I really enjoyed eating in some of the Chinese restaurants.

‘Insane’ is the perfect summary word for my exchange experience. I’m ecstatic with how much I achieved.

Before Exchange:

– Never been on a plane

– Never been out of Africa

– Never been to the USA

– Never used the electronic medical record

Student exchange has impacted me greatly, as I have become a lot more open to new things and a world bigger than just my comfort zone. I’ve become more confident in myself and the choices I make, and I’ve learned to take in everything as it comes, and not to judge things by their first impression, which I didn’t necessarily do before my exchange.

I met some very nice people, whom I believe will remain my friends for the long term. Some of the physicians especially Dr Villanueva were really good mentors and I hope that they will continue to be as they are among the best in the area of infectious diseases that I really am interested in.

It’s surprising that one of the most important things I leant is what I learnt about my classmates who I travelled with, and whom I thought I had known for 4 years.  I learnt a lot of things which I didn’t previously know about them and this was all due to staying together in the same house, sharing the same living room and the same kitchen.

Weeks flew by without me actually realizing and at the end of my stay, I was really sad say by to everyone who had been a part of my wonderful stay at New Haven.