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Fellowship Experience During a Pandemic

Gloved Doctor's hand holding patient's hand.

One moment, I’m staring groggily out the window of our Toyota RAV4 as my husband and I travel cross-country from Arizona to his new home in Ohio. I’ve just finished my fourth year of neurology residency and I have conflicting emotions about leaving the place I’ve called home for the last four years. The next moment, I’m staring out of an airplane window, peering into thick clouds as I head toward Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. I’m in disbelief. Did I really just set out on a solo journey around the world?

First of Its Kind

For years, I’ve wanted to pursue my passion for global health, but I was unsure how to make this dream become a reality. My prayers were answered in November of 2019, as I read a headline on the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) website announcing that Johns Hopkins was establishing a global health neurology fellowship — the first of its kind.

As I look out the airplane window, I recollect the utter joy I experienced the day I received the email from Dr. Saylor offering me the position. Has it really been over a year? In true Dominique fashion, I let a flurry of thoughts race through my mind as I try to get comfortable in my seat. My thoughts are my only company during this day’s worth of travel. “Am I ready for this?” “Dominique, please don’t disappoint anyone.” “Will I be able to recognize the disease processes in Lusaka? It’s a totally different climate and demographic than Tucson.” My emotions fluctuate as quickly as my thoughts race — I transition from fear to excitement to anxiety to gratitude. “This is normal,” I tell myself. “How else should I behave? I’m moving to a foreign country with limited resources. This is not going to be a piece of cake. But let’s try to appreciate and embrace each emotion for what it is. When will I ever get to do this again? This is going to be such a life-changing adventure!”

Indeed, it sure has been. The past three weeks spent in Zambia have been a whirlwind. Each moment shifts promptly into the next as I try to adjust to the culture, the environment and the hospital. The Zambian people make this an easy task, as they’ve all been so warm and welcoming.

Unique Experiences

The hospital setting is unlike anything I’ve ever been exposed to. I marvel at the care the patients’ families provide at the bedside. They act as couriers when patients’ labs need to be transported. They provide the detailed histories. They help feed the patients, frequently using a nasogastric (NG) tube because many of the patients are too altered to safely swallow on their own. The family members are the patients’ best advocates.

Each day, I try to soak in my surroundings. I feel a sense of despair around the hospital. Lusaka has been ravaged by COVID-19 and the hospital has felt the impact. I have become familiar with each of our patients’ stories, and I am overcome by sadness. I see just how influential of a factor poverty plays in their overall outcome. I leave the hospital each day with the same unanswered question: How can I make a difference?


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25 thoughts on “Fellowship Experience During a Pandemic”

  1. Challenging humbled experience. With this experience , I feel you will be a great humble doctor as you have seen people in Lusaka who have been warm & do their best to help their families & fellowmen in spite of their limited resources.

  2. Would love to hear from Dr. Dominique Mortel with all her different humane experiences & for all her learning experiences in Lusaka.

  3. I’m so proud of you Dr. Dominique Mortel Gabro .Your medical journey is very humbling 💕 Yes , you are making a difference you are all the way on the other side of the world helping people and building your journey with perseverance , love , hard work , intelligence and compassion ! I will follow your journey and hope to hear more about the Zambian people and their kindness and reading more of the people that you are helping and their families that support them. You are making a difference .. it is a part of you .

  4. What an amazing experience for you! You truly are an exceptionally courageous woman who is doing great things in life! I would absolutely love to follow your journey on your blog. God Bless & take care always!

  5. Keep on changing the world one day at a time. Zambia is blessed to have you, and you are blessed to have so many Zambians helping and supporting you. Thank you for bringing us along your eye-opening journey!

  6. Congratulations on the next step in your journey!! The amount of care you give alone makes the biggest difference with everyone you interact with!! Be confident in yourself as there is no one more prepared and more willing to give it their all than you!!! Looking forward to hearing more.

    “You really can change the world of you care enough.” - Marian Wright Edelman

  7. When it gets overwhelming and you get frustrated and you start to question yourself just remember you have but two hands. Be kind to yourself. Your knowledge and training in a first world country is already a Godsend for the people of Zambia so there is no question just you being there is a tremendous help. Thank you for giving us all insight, it helps us see how the rest of the world is doing during these trying times.

  8. Doms, our sweet Doms, all I can say is Wow-Wow-Wow❣️ You are truly one amazing prodigy to me in terms of your life journey wrought with bright promise and challenges at the same time. What is so inspiring is your sense of compassion and humanity in whatever you do. Your guiding compass which is ‘how you can make a difference’ wherever you are is a legacy to us (your family and all who know you) on how we can aspire to be better in all that we do. When you put your heart and mind to any endeavor void of self, ego and conceit - you got it made. Thank you for sharing - Thank you for just being You.❣️

  9. YOU are one of God’s way of making people feel his presence and love and an inspiration to us all. You are a blessing to the people of Zambia, and your love and dedication is certainly making a difference. Keep faith, hope and love burning in you and you’ll go a very long way. Looking forward to hearing more of your adventure. Stay safe. God bless you dear doctor.

  10. Hi Dominique,

    Im so proud of you!!! Hearing your story of courage and the challenges you are faced with is encouraging to me and the world for that matter. You are making a difference to be there for people who are hanging by a thread in a world where medicine and technology is hard to come by. God has surely put you there for a reason to save lives and learn. There is so much hope, and love and you are one of them. Thank you for everything you do for others. I’m inspired by your compassion and greatness. You are amazing, strong and beautiful. God bless you always

  11. So proud of you Dom, taking this leap of faith and setting out of this solo adventure. I’m sure all your efforts are greatly appreciated by your patients. Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures and stay safe.

  12. I’m so proud of you habibi, and am so blessed to have you as a part of my family. I am so inspired and in awe that you have the courage to independently travel and help others all the way across the world, in a place that people need doctors the most. The Lord has blessed you with a passionate and generous heart, and a brilliant mind. May He bless you and the lives that you touch. We love you and we can’t wait to see you when you return. I’m looking forward to reading more newsletters from you.

  13. So proud of you! Your empathy and patience for those in need is so amazing! So excited for what comes next in your medical journey.

  14. You asked how you can make a difference. You already are by just being there and doing what you can to help the family and the sick. May God Bless you and keep you safe.

  15. You are a blessing to those who are in most need. You have touched so many lives including many of us who live afar. I pray that God will forever protect you from harm and illness. And may He give you strength to continue your good deeds.

  16. can’t wait to hear more of your experiences.
    you are an amazing person and an extraordinary doctor.
    your dedication and drive sets you apart from anyone.
    I am so proud to say I know you.
    God Bless!!

  17. You are fearless! You are making such a difference in this world, and the people of Zambia is so lucky to have a doctor like you.

  18. Amazing 🤩. Glad to hear about the healthcare atmosphere in this country and how there’s a sense of community and hope.

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