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UMass Chan students travel to Rwanda to provide obstetric care

Naomi Stuffers and Elisa Rocha, fourth-year medical students in the T.H. Chan School of Medicine, traveled to Rwanda this fall to provide obstetric care with urogynecologist Cynthia Hall, MD, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology, and the International Organization of Women and Development

Stuffers and Rocha worked with surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists alongside Rwandan medical students and physicians to repair obstetric fistulas, which are holes between the birth canal and rectum or bladder that can develop as a result of obstructed or prolonged labor. Stuffers recalled a moment in the operating room where the surgeons used sterile gloves on lighting fixtures because plastic light handles weren’t available. 

“We had to sterilize everything ourselves,” Stuffers said. “We’d have to wait 30 minutes to an hour with our equipment in sterilization liquid. It was challenging, but everyone always got creative and figured it out.” 

“We were able to help a lot of women,” said Rocha, who is pursuing urology. “A lot of them were grateful for the opportunity to be seen and heard in their community. There was actually one woman who had gone 40 years without telling anyone she had a fistula. We were able to see her and treat her and, hopefully, her life going forward will be a lot better.” 

Fistulas, which cause uncontrollable leakage of urine or feces, often lead to women being ostracized from their communities.

“A lot of the time, they think it’s their fault and don’t know that it’s treatable,” said Rocha. “The point is to help these women get their dignity and their lives back.” 

Continuing the efforts of two students who previously traveled to Rwanda, Stuffers and Rocha held a suturing course for the Rwandan medical students. They also helped create educational documents along with comprehensive post-operative instructions for the patients to help improve understanding and patient outcomes.

“I knew global health was something I always wanted to incorporate in my future career,” Rocha said. “I’m grateful that UMass Chan gave us the opportunity to do this. These trips humble you.” 

In the video above, Rocha and Stuffers describe their paths to medical school and share photos from their trip. 

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.