news-category: Christian Service

Gardner-Webb PA Students Travel to Kenya for Final Clinical Experience Before Graduation

three images of April Evans, Myah Harrison and Sarah Hiscocks examining patients
From left, April Evans, Myah Harrison and Sarah Hiscocks

Despite Heat, Long Days and Extra Costs, Alumnae Ready to Serve Again

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—For their final elective clinical practice experience in the Master of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program at Gardner-Webb University, three May 2023 graduates decided to test their skills in another country. Myah Harrison of Belmont, N.C., April Evans of Spartanburg, S.C., and Sarah Hiscocks of Bullock, N.C., flew nearly 18 hours and paid out-of-pocket to work in Kenya.

The trip was coordinated by Medical Mission Teams, a non-profit led by Scarlet and Joel Holcombe. He is a medical doctor, board certified in emergency medicine, and she is a pharmacist. They sponsor at least three to four trips to Kenya annually and also serve in Madagascar and Guatemala.

The Gardner-Webb PA alumnae worked in a medical clinic set up outside under tents with limited access to power, water and equipment. They communicated to patients through an interpreter. The home they stayed in at night had a water cooler and electricity provided by a generator, but no air conditioning.

Despite taking precautions, all three had travelers’ sickness at least once. Although the heat and humidity were oppressive and the days long, the alumnae said they want to go back, and Harrison is already making plans to go next year.

What could make them endure the environment, sickness and long days again? Harrison beamed when she answered simply, “The people.”

She continued, “They absolutely touched my heart. I can’t wait to see them again. It was a life-changing, eye-opening experience for me. My relationship with God grew, and my relationships with people in general. I wanted to give them a hug and a high five. The environment is so welcoming and so warm. My heart just can’t wait to go back. When I’m working as a PA, I want to be a permanent member of the Medical Mission Teams and go back yearly.”

April Evans, left, and Sarah Hiscocks pose with one of the Kenyan clinical officers.

Evans added, “I feel like I can speak for all three of us, we feel like we have family over there in Kenya. We loved every minute—maybe not the sickness part—of our time in Kenya and it’s 100% because of the people that we met and the way they took care of us and showed us their hearts. We are immensely grateful for the opportunity.”

Harrison has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology-sports medicine. Before entering the PA program at GWU, she worked in an emergency department. She met a Black female PA, who inspired her to go back to school and learn to “save lives.”

Evans has a bachelor’s degree in health science and worked in administrative positions in the medical field for over nine years. “I wanted to do more,” she asserted. “I wanted to interact with patients and serve them to the best of my ability with empathy and compassion. I wanted to use whatever God-given talents and medical knowledge I had to become the best possible provider for my future patients.”

Hiscocks decided to become a PA after participating in a global public health study abroad in Belize in 2017. She has a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. After learning more about the PA profession, she decided that was the field she wanted to pursue.

The Gardner-Webb PAs want to go back to Kenya to see these children again.

When they started the PA program at Gardner-Webb, all three young women were interested in doing an international clinical rotation. Harrison was the first to see the details about the Kenya opportunity and she texted Evans, “You want to go to Africa?”

Harrison shared, “Going to Africa is something that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a child. And who gets an opportunity to go to Africa? It doesn’t come around often, and also being able to provide care to the underserved.”

Evans agreed it was the trip of a lifetime and started making plans to go. The students then worked in coordination with their PA program faculty and staff to arrange the learning experience. On this trip, Hiscocks wanted to study abroad in Africa to challenge herself by practicing in an area with limited resources.

Myah Harrison

During their two and one-half weeks in Kenya, they worked in the clinics alongside the Kenyan clinical officers, shadowed in the local hospital and provided care to the children in the boarding school. Because resources were limited, they had to think about different ways to treat the patient. Not being able to speak the language, they also became more skilled in explaining diagnosis and treatment to their patients.

Hiscocks added that it also helped to broaden her perspectives when thinking about differentials, which is assessing a patient’s signs and symptoms to determine the cause. “Because we were in a tropical area, I saw diseases that I would never see here,” she explained. “Whenever you are treating people here (in the U.S.) you always have to consider someone who’s traveled, so now I have some experience with what this illness (malaria) looks like in a patient who is sick.”

They all felt that this experience provided an opportunity to use everything they learned at Gardner-Webb and trust their abilities as independent practitioners. “It’s prepared me for what it’s going to be like in the real world,” Harrison reflected. “And I don’t think I would have got that opportunity from any other clinical rotation. I feel more confident in me as a provider and what I can offer to my future patients.”  

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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