[Skip to Content]

Educational exchange program in Kenya restarts after Covid interruption

After a brief hiatus due to COVID-19, Upstate Medical University has revived its bidirectional educational exchange program with Maseno University School of Medicine in Kisumu, Kenya.

In mid-May, Andrea Shaw, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine & pediatrics, returned to Kenya with three residents and one medical student for a medical service and educational experience in partnership with Maseno University School of Medicine at the Obama Children’s Hospital in Kisumu, Kenya.

“COVID changed a lot all over the world, but this recent trip was a great opportunity to get our feet back on the ground,” Shaw said. “There are a lot of things about the hospital that have changed since we were there, but our relationships with colleagues across the globe remains committed to a joint educational mission.

“The opportunities are many; at the end of the day learners are interested in this type of bidirectional exchange in medical education because it expands everyone’s mind and allows for robust learning across systems and cultures,” Shaw continued.

The Upstate team had been engaged virtually once a month for the past two years through a virtual case conference series between the two universities. Clinical cases presented by Kenyan medical students and Upstate pediatric residents are joined with the perspective of Upstate pediatric specialty providers and Maseno’s pediatric core faculty. In Kenya, the Upstate team engages in bedside clinical teaching, case-based learning as well as didactic lectures that fit into Maseno’s curriculum.

“It was really nice to re-engage,” Shaw said. “The bottom line is that the same incredible pediatricians who were working there through the pandemic were still there, and very committed to the educational mission. The students were just as hungry to learn. They were eager to get back to in-person experiences.

The Upstate—Maseno collaboration was born out of Upstate’s Institute for Global Health and Translational Science, where former Upstate researchers committed to a great depth and breadth of work in a region including Mark Polhemus, MD, Timothy Endy, MD, and Rosemary Rochford, PhD.

When Shaw joined the faculty at Upstate in late 2016, she was committed to ongoing work in clinical service and educational collaboration in East Africa, a region she had been involved with in varying capacities over the prior decade. In 2008, amidst her years of medical training, she spent a year in Tanzania working with Upstate’s current Chief of Infectious Diseases Elizabeth Asiago-Reddy, MD. After that, she worked in South Sudan affiliated with Juba Teaching Hospital.

The first Upstate group of learners joined Shaw in 2018 and the program continued with a diverse array of learners from Upstate including public health and medical students, pediatric & emergency medicine residents, as well as faculty across disciplines until Covid-19 interrupted and forced Upstate staff and students to evacuate.

Upstate has demonstrated an equitable commitment to this bidirectional partnership by sponsoring Kenyan faculty and students to join observership time at Upstate in 2018 and 2019. This will restart this fall when two Kenyan final-year medical students and one junior faculty member come to Upstate for observership.

Future plans involve the expansion of an international health fellowship that will engage Upstate faculty in Kenya consistently throughout the entire calendar year. 

“The academic teaching hospital to teaching hospital relationship leaves much room for collaboration across disciplines and silos for the improvement of care and enhanced educational experiences,” Shaw said.

Shaw is also working with Upstate Foundation for a formal path for donations to improve support for pediatric patients at Obama Children’s Hospital with items identified by the local staff, including pediatric-friendly wall murals, updating bed nets to protect from mosquitoes, and replacing thermometers and basic equipment.

“We're serving Kenyans who have no means to pay for their care, just like we're committed to serving everybody who comes into Upstate,” Shaw said. “Nobody gets turned away. That same model exists at a teaching hospital when you're in a developing country. That parallel mission is essential, with a commitment to provide care to all and educate the next generation of care providers.”

Shaw said that though the Upstate students had been engaging virtually with their Kenyan counterparts for the past two years, there is no substitute for being on the ground in a different country.

“A lot of their learning is just putting themselves in another person’s shoes and realizing the pathology and the medicine are very much the same but the culture of how patients understand illness, seek care, and deliver care is different. Learners have to figure out how they fit in,” she said. “When they approach it with humility and respect, we all go far together.”

Outside Obama Children's Hospital, from left, are Head Nurse Beatrice Ontita, third-year pediatric residents from Upstate Jean Meneses, MD; Sophie Duron, MD; Ruby Sangha, MD; and Upstate Professor Andrea Shaw, MD.