The seeds of an internship may be planted in Richmond — but their branches spread all over the globe. In the case of Jackson Taylor, ’14, those plans took root thousands of miles from Virginia, at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, where he interned for a little over six weeks.
The rising senior, a double major in leadership studies and Latin American and Iberian studies, grew up in a medical household and is looking to continue in those footsteps after graduation.
“There was never any family pressure to be a doctor,” he says. “However, it definitely made me aware of the realities of medicine and of the variety of specialization within medicine.”
That interest propelled Taylor into Vanderbilt University’s (now discontinued) Young Scholars Medical Program, which, one of its now-defunct websites explains, “allow[ed] exceptional high school students to experience what life is like in a large academic medical center.”
But the jump from Vanderbilt to Tenwek, located in southwest Kenya, some 140 miles northwest of Nairobi, is a large one — and one that Taylor navigated by way of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. The Jepson School requires all leadership majors to participate in an internship; the Robert L. Burrus Jr. Fellowship for Internships, a UR Summer Fellowship, provides financial assistance for select students working in unpaid nonprofit, government, or education organizations either in the U.S. or abroad. Last year, Taylor applied for the fellowship and was accepted, bringing him one step closer to Tenwek.
“I had been to South Africa once before and I loved the experience but wanted to do something more medical and rural,” he says. Both his parents had previously worked with Tenwek, so the choice seemed a natural one.
Founded in 1937 by World Gospel Mission missionaries, Tenwek Hospital is today known throughout western Kenya and the region for both the quality of its health care and its community-based approach to development. Taylor’s internship there was split between helping to develop a cardiac patient database system and shadowing and assisting in a variety of departments. The range of situations he encountered drove home the differences between U.S. and international medicine.
“The cases must be handled very carefully because of the limited resources of both the hospital and the families,” he says. “Also, the care is dependent on the survivability of the patient. It does not make any fiscal sense to spend resources on patients that either don’t necessarily need the care or will not likely survive.”
The harsher medical realities were at times challenging to face.
“I watched a fetus be removed from a 21-year-old’s uterus in six pieces after a criminal abortion,” Taylor remembers (abortion is today illegal in Kenya). “Her uterus and colon had been perforated and she had to have her uterus removed, rendering her infertile. I’ve never been so emotionally challenged by an experience.”
But despite the difficulties, Taylor reflects that the internship provided him a window into the broader world of international medicine — as well as allowing him to gain hands-on experience that he would be unable to obtain in the U.S.
At the end of the day, he believes that his interest in and commitment to entering the field of medicine were strengthened by the experience. He hopes to return to Kenya in the future — preferably, he says, as a trained physician.
In the meantime, he’ll have a host of memories from Tenwek to mull over as he navigates the process of finishing up his undergrad and applying to medical school.
One unexpected incident in particular lingers in his mind.
“I was invited with a group of coworkers to the adobe hut home of a 19-year-old boy and his family — nine children and a mother — who had just lost their father to tuberculosis at Tenwek. He had tea and he thanked us and praised God for our work and the work of Tenwek and the good that the hospital does for the people,” Taylor remembers. “Even in the face of the death of his father.”