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Mirriam Munthali, who is in her fourth year at the Malawi College of Medicine, spent the summer in Chapel Hill as a part of the UNC Partner Site Student Scholarship, sponsored by the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of International Activities.

By Jamie Williams,

In July, Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy was performed at UNC Medical Center for the first time. Mirriam Munthali scrubbed in and participated in parts of the procedure. That might have been her most memorable experience during her 10-week summer rotation at the UNC Medical Center. Or, maybe it was the solo bus ride to New York City and the day spent on Coney Island. Or, celebrating the 4th of July with new friends here in Chapel Hill.

Munthali, who is in her fourth year of medical school at the Malawi College of Medicine in Blantyre, was able to come to Chapel Hill as a part of the UNC Partner Site Student Scholarship, sponsored by the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of International Activities. The opportunity is open to students from all UNC partner sites, China, Nicaragua, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia. One student is selected per year to come to Chapel Hill for two clinical rotations.

All of their expenses are sponsored by the Office of International Activities.

“This is the third year the Office of International Activities in partnership with IGHID has been able to offer this full scholarship to a medical student from one of our partner sites and we hope to see it continue as a gesture of mutuality and investing in medical education,” said Shay Slifko, Program Manager, Office of International Activities. ”Our hopes are that students who plan to practice and contribute to patient care and research in their home country are encouraged to apply to our scholarship. Mirriam is a very determined and persevering medical doctor to be. I look forward to seeing where her career takes her.”

Munthali’s two rotations were pediatric surgery – hence her participation in the HIPEC procedure – and emergency medicine. She was also able to spend some time working in anesthesia. Her ultimate career goal is to go into emergency medicine or anesthesia back home in Malawi.

During her emergency medicine rotation at UNC Medical Center, Munthali said she was impressed by the high degree of coordination among all members of the care teams and emergency services. Back home, physicians are often completely unaware of what their next case might entail. She said it also took some time to get used to the electronic medical records.

“It was very interesting to see how trauma was managed at a Level One trauma center and how different teams worked together in unison to manage patients,” Munthali said.

One thing that’s consistent across both countries is the emphasis on listening to patients and forming relationships as a part of their care.

“In Malawi, our first two years of training are grounded in getting the patient’s story, then we learn everything else. So, I feel very confident talking to the patients here. I am very impressed with how knowledgeable they are about their conditions,” Munthali said.

She knows that much of what she’s seen during her summer in Chapel Hill will not directly translate to her medical career back in Malawi. There’s a large gap in medical technology available in the two countries, and, she says, many of the conditions she’s seen during her time in Chapel Hill are not common in Malawi, and vice versa.

But, this experience will make her a better physician. She is confident of that.

“The things that I have been exposed to will make me better. The experience opened my mind to all of the possibilities of medicine,” Menthali said.