Thursday, April 10, 2008

Health Education in Action at the JFK Hospital

Project HOPE volunteer Marina Rivera only has two weeks to share her 20 years of experience with radiology techs at the JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. But she's taking advantage of every minute. Read her story.
A retired U.S. Army radiographer from Fountain, Colorado, Marina has worked on some of the best radiography equipment available. But for two weeks this April, Marina has happily left behind the modern techniques of digital radiology to participate in a health education mission as a Project HOPE volunteer in Liberia Africa. She is now sharing her radiology experience with seven counterparts who work at the JFK Hospital in Monrovia. The hospital, struggling to recover after years of civil war in the country, lacks all modern conveniences, even electricity is a luxury. It’s hot, crowded and the x-ray equipment is antiquated.

But Marina doesn’t mind. “I love my job,” she said. “And I am in awe of these guys I am working with. They really want to learn all they can.”

On her first day in the department, she barely finished introducing herself to her counterparts when a trauma patient was rushed in who needed an immediate head x-ray. “I was hoping for something easy, like a chest x-ray first,” Marina said. “But when they brought him in, I just jumped right in. I guess it set the tone and pace for us because we have been non-stop since.”

Working side by side, Marina and her counterparts x-ray up to 50 patients a day. In addition to taking the x-rays, the techs at JFK also manually develop each film. “I studied radiology in the late 80s,” Mariana said. “And while we were being taught manual developing, we were being told we would never use this technology. Now here I am, 20 some years later using the technology.”

While the techs at JFK have received education in x-ray technology, their practical experience is learned on the job. Marina has not only been assisting with suggestions on the right technical settings for each individual patient, but also offering simple practical advice to her counterparts like explaining how asking a patient to put their hands on their hips and hold their shoulders back during a chest x-ray results in a better film, or x-raying a forearm with the palm up instead of palm down presents a more readable “picture.”

Her counterparts eagerly seek out her suggestions. “We want to learn as much as we can about Marina’s techniques while she is here,” said Jackson, one of Marina’s a radiology counterparts at the JFK Hospital. “Then we can learn them and use them after she is gone.”

Marina’s easy going personality is a key to her success with her counterparts and patients at the JFK Hospital. She keeps patients calm and keeps open communication flowing between herself and counterparts as they discuss how to set individual x-ray settings. Often time, even nervous patients crack a smile when they see Marina giving elbow high fives to the other technicians in the room after a successful “shoot.”

Patients at JFK are required to pay for their x –rays upfront at a cost of about $8 U.S. for a chest x-ray. They must return to the crowded dark hot hospital the next day to wait again to pick up their x-ray. “Patients take their x-rays home with them,” Marina explained. “The hospital does not have the capability of storing them here.”

As the only women in the group, Marina also shares an example of compassion with patients, explaining what is being done or offering a gentle touch to a scared child or parent. “Everything we do in here is an educational experience,” Marina said. “Every patient we see, every film we take is an opportunity to teach and learn.”

But Jackson and his six colleagues are not the only ones learning lessons this week. Marina also feels like a student again. “I’m awed by them and their willingness to learn. And I’m learning to. They took me in the dark room and let me develop a film today. They’ve really taught me how to adapt to whatever circumstances you're in.”

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