By Brianna Cooper, Communications Intern, UNC Department of Allied Health Sciences
Imagine the typical day in the life of a radiologic science student. You are most likely envisioning the student in a lab learning to use new equipment under the watchful eye of the instructor. Or perhaps you would picture the student volunteering in a hospital, practicing skills on patients and learning new techniques from staff members. You imagine the student going home and studying textbooks and other materials for an upcoming exam.
If this is what you imagine when you think about the typical radiologic science student, you would be surprised to find that studying radiology looks a lot different in other parts of the world, like Malawi.
Being a radiology student at the Malawi College of Health Sciences means receiving theoretical knowledge because there is no lab where you can gain hands-on experience. It means not having the opportunity to practice your skills in the field, because hospitals are overcrowded and equipment is severely limited. Being a radiologic science student in Malawi means not having all the resources and materials you need because of financial barriers.
Peter Shaba is trying to change that.
On his first international visit, Shaba, the acting head of the Radiography Programme at the Malawi College of Health Sciences (MCHS), arrived in Chapel Hill to meet with faculty and students from the University of North Carolina’s Division of Radiologic Science, which is housed in the UNC School of Medicine’s UNC Department of Allied Health Sciences. Shaba’s visit was a part of a global, collaborative initiative to support radiology colleagues in Lilongwe, Malawi.
During his visit Shaba also discussed his current collaboration with the Division of Radiologic Science to establish an educational partnership with the Malawi College of Health Sciences’ Radiology Programme. Shaba connected with faculty, like Andrew Woodward, RT, Assistant Professor of Radiologic Science at UNC, and students in the classroom to gain insight into strategies for developing effective instructional design and delivery techniques for radiologic science.
Shaba said that spending time in the classroom was an important step to help him to see how the Radiologic Science Programme at MCHS could be improved, which is one of the goals of the partnership with the Division of Radiologic Science.
“The educational visit was a great experience and created a platform for improvement of the teaching and learning of radiography at MCHS,” said Shaba. “Through the class and lab instructional strategies I observed, I was able to take note of the things that we need to do so as to improve the services we deliver.”
UNC Students Grow from Malawi Experience
The educational partnership, which began in September 2013 after an initial site visit and with the guidance of UNC Project-Malawi, has three long-term bilateral goal initiatives. These include:
• Radiologist support
• Technologist and radiographer education and development for working technologists, faculty and students
• Biomedical engineering development for equipment maintenance
Since their initial site visit, students and faculty in the Division of Radiologic Science have maintained an integral role in providing educational resources to MCHS radiology students.
“Education is the key to an improved future,” said Woodward, when discussing the partnership. “The establishment of the partnership between the Malawi College of Health Sciences’ Radiography Programme and UNC’s Division of Radiologic Science is nothing less than an epic accomplishment for both institutions. The partnership will enable students and faculty from both institutions to engage in academic endeavors that will lead to personal and professional growth.”
As of 2015, six radiologic science students have traveled with faculty to Malawi, where they are required to give guest lectures to Malawian student technologists. Katelyn Robertson, a senior radiologic science major at UNC, said it was her desire to learn more about the health care system in one of the world’s most impoverished regions that originally drew her toward Malawi. She added that the scarcity of radiologic equipment available in Malawi inspired her to get involved in the mission to help improve health care services in the region.
“Seeing how Malawian’s manage as best they can with the limited resources they have really struck me. It truly teaches one to be grateful for what he or she has,” Robertson said. “Seeing this made me wish I could do something to help people of Malawi receive the health care they require, which is why I have gotten more involved with RAD-AID International since the trip.”
RAD-AID is a non-profit public service organization that aims to provide radiology resources to underdeveloped countries throughout the world. Robertson, who hopes to study health care administration or become a radiologic technologist after graduation, said her experience in Malawi has been crucial in helping her decide her future goals.
“I believe this trip has shaped me to be more culturally aware as a person and as a health care professional,” she said.
For another radiologic science major, UNC senior Jordan Black, the trip to Malawi was as educational as it was personal. He was struck by the way the hospital would make up for the lack of nursing staff by having family members provide for the patient’s personal care needs like bathing and feeding. Black said that his experiences in Malawi have inspired him to explore career options in international medicine after graduation.
“I was interested in the trip to Malawi because I have always dreamed of going to Africa, and I have passion for international medicine and learning about other cultures,” said Black. “The work ethic I saw in Malawi was something I will never forget. Seeing and working with different cultures is amazing and can be very rewarding. My goal is to one day spend time working around the world.”
Improving Radiologic Science in Malawi
Much like the students in the exchange program, Shaba said he also benefited from witnessing first-hand the way the health care system operates in a foreign country.
“My experience in the USA was great,” Shaba said. “Professionally, I learned a lot of things for the improvement of teaching Radiologic Science at MCHS. I was also able to appreciate a different environment from what I am used to seeing.”
Shaba said that this visit was only one of several activities taking place to help ensure that the educational partnership between UNC’s Division of Radiologic Science and the MCHS Radiology Program would continue to grow and fulfill its goals. Next steps include more development of the biomedical engineering goal for sustainable equipment maintenance in Malawi. Additionally, more growth needs to be achieved on radiologist support—possibly via tele-radiology for consulting and further support of the radiology trainee program at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe.
While in Chapel Hill, Shaba and Woodward also collaborated on a presentation for the RAD-AID conference in Washington, D.C. Shaba and Woodward’s presentation focused on strategies for implementing radiology in resource-limited regions. Shaba said he appreciated how the conference shined a light on the lack of sufficient radiologic equipment in less economically fortunate regions like Malawi.
“I was also able to appreciate the effort and good work that RAD-AID International is putting in making sure resource-limited countries, Malawi inclusive, can afford radiological services,” he said.