Student view:

Kayley Irwin: Study abroad sparks passion for medicine

March 4, 2020

Kayley Irwin is a senior from Twinsburg, Ohio majoring in physiology in the College of Natural Science and is minoring in health promotion. She is a College of Natural Science Dean's Research Scholar. 

After an advising appointment in January 2019, I found myself rapidly applying to the pre-clinical observation, culture and medicine study abroad program through the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.

It was a week-long program during spring break in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, and the application was due the next day. I knew that this program was something I needed to be a part of, and it couldn’t have come at a better time in my undergraduate journey.  

Before the trip, I was bogged down by the weight of what felt like endless prerequisites and lofty expectations required of any pre-medical student. I flew to the Dominican Republic hoping to learn about global healthcare and experience a new culture. 

During the trip, we shadowed physicians in pediatrics, talked to patients receiving treatment at a diabetic wound clinic and I entered an operating room for the first time. Upon scrubbing in, I immediately witnessed a woman receiving an episiotomy; I was struck by her happiness and relief as her son was born despite the obvious pains she was enduring. 

When shadowing in pediatrics, a mother handed me her baby so she could attend to her other child who was sick, and the baby gave me the biggest smile . . . and then promptly coughed in my face. As it turned out, she had an upper respiratory infection, but I didn’t get sick, so I think quite positively about the experience! 

In the wound clinic, we explored pain management techniques utilized by Dominican physicians as anesthesia was not always available nor could be afforded by some patients. This stood out as a sharp contrast to the medical practices I had observed in the United States where we are currently experiencing an opioid crisis.

All of these experiences over the week-long trip reminded me of why I wanted to pursue medicine in the first place. Ultimately, my goal as a physician is to make a positive impact on the patients that I see and at times, under the weight of assignments and requirements, it can be hard to remember that the pursuit of medicine is a lesson in delayed gratification. 

Interacting with the patients and health care providers in Santo Domingo reignited my passion for medicine at a critical point in my undergraduate journey. When I returned from the trip to East Lansing I felt refreshed and ready to do whatever was necessary to become a physician. 

Since then, I have carried the experience close to my heart and draw on it in times of exhaustion for the courage to keep moving forward. One day I will become a physician, and it will be, in part, thanks to my study abroad program in the Dominican Republic.