Ugandan students experience health care and life, Iowa-style

Bret Ripley with Ugandan students

While he was growing up, Charles Loponi’s mother and grandmother were traditional birth attendants, and his maternal grandfather was a local healer and herbalist. “I came from that lineage of people helping others,” he says.

Lydia Mbatidde is the first in her family to pursue a health care career. She was inspired in her youth by a school trip during which she noticed the children in the area seemed small and under-nourished. “I want to go back to help the people in the villages,” she says.

The two fourth-year medical students in Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences in Uganda share that service ethic and a passion to learn. They spent several weeks in Iowa this summer, observing and working with clinicians in the DMU Clinic, at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines and at Mercy in Sioux City, IA. They qualified for the experience by ranking at the top of their class, giving them the option of traveling to DMU, Yale University or the University of Sydney.

Mbatidde based her choice on conversations she had with other Ugandan students who’d experienced the three universities. “DMU has strong osteopathic and podiatric programs, which don’t exist in Uganda,” she says. “Also, students who go to the other universities live in hostels, but in Des Moines, we’re given a host family – that was another factor.”

She and Loponi stayed with Barb and Fred Hofferber during most of their time in Iowa. The Des Moines residents have hosted the Ugandan medical students for several years and make sure their guests get a good taste of the Midwest via activities and events ranging from fishing and local festivals to garage sales and the Iowa State Fair.

The fourth pair of Ugandan students to seek clinical experiences through DMU, Loponi and Mbatidde enjoyed learning about U.S. health care system resources, evidence-based practice and the interaction among different health care providers. They also embraced the DMU clinicians’ encouragement to ask a lot of questions.

“The people here are very warm,” Mbatidde says.

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