Reflecting On My Time as a Clinical Volunteer for World Spine Care

by Shannon Bloch, DC, MSACN

Dr. Bloch and friends on a hike in Botswana

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work in the Mahalapye District Hospital and Shoshong clinic with World Spine Care in Botswana for 12 weeks this past spring. My time in Botswana was everything that I hoped it would be and so much more. To travel is one thing but to work and be completely immersed in a different culture and community gives you a whole new perspective and truly forces you to grow as a clinician. Working in a different country with a different language and customs allows you to think outside of the box and understand your patients in a different way than you would back home. Instead of relying on patients to self-report their pain you learn to look at movement patterns, facial expressions and need to be accurate with your examination and diagnostic skills in order to create an effective treatment plan and diagnosis.

World Spine Care community members participate in a morning yoga class, taught by a trainee of the World Spine Care Yoga Project.

I came to Botswana at a very busy time, the week I arrived was the 3rd Botswana Spine Care conference where medical professionals from all over the world came to speak to the employees of the Botswana Ministry of Health and educate them on proper identification, examination, diagnosis and treatment of spinal conditions. Also, at this time the World Spine Care Yoga Project had just completed their second phase and trained local Botswana to be able to teach yoga within their communities. There was a lot going on and I was very grateful to become fully involved in this experience from the beginning and learn what World Spine Care is all about.

What surprised me the most about being in Botswana was how happy and welcoming all of the local people were. Almost every patient, whether they spoke English or Setswana, was grateful that we were there to help and more importantly, that we were there to listen. Often these patients were referred from doctor to doctor with no one taking the time to give them an answer, or any kind of treatment. Patients came in with almost every condition you can imagine, many I had read about in textbooks and never thought I would see in real life. Patients would always be so grateful that we took the time to do a proper history and examination, gave them a diagnosis and provided treatment. Often you could see it in their eyes that this was the first time someone had given them hope that they would get better. This really led me to appreciate how much our profession is needed and just how much of an impact we can have on people’s lives.

I believe that the most rewarding part of being a chiropractor or any health care professional is to see your patients after you have finished treating them and discover that they have continued to improve and now are taking an active role in their health. We saw this every day at the Shoshong clinic with the World Spine Care Yoga Project. Patients would either come early to do yoga before their appointment or those who were previous patients and now pain free would join because they knew the importance of staying healthy. It was a beautiful thing to see this rural community come together in a way that made them leaders by knowing that they can continue to improve and stay healthy by keeping active.

Sunset in Botswana

World Spine Care’s mission is to improve the lives of underserved communities through sustainable, integrated and evidence based spine care. I was able to see first hand how this works and it truly is a life changing experience. I learned more in my 3 months in Botswana than I ever could have imagined and I know that it not only made me a better clinician but also a better person. I look forward to using all of the knowledge I gained in Botswana in my practice back home and I could not recommend this experience more for clinicians all over the world.

Without the support of our donors and sponsors it wouldn’t be possible for volunteers such as Shannon to gain this extensive clinical experience. We deeply appreciate your support and that of our Clinic supervisors who donate a year of their lives to manage the clinics for us and our other volunteers who donate their time and energy to assisting with the clinics. However, operating clinics in remote areas of the world is expensive and we continue to need your support. Please go to our website at www.worldspinecare.org and donate now. Not only will you be helping the underserved of the world but you will also be helping to have spine care included in the health care systems of these countries.

This article also appears in the World Federation of Chiropractic Quarterly World Report, for Fall 2018.

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