Biobehavioral health undergraduate job shadows physicians in Tanzania

Penn State student in Tanzania, Africa

Penn State Lehigh Valley student Muhammad Shivji spent four weeks job shadowing health care professionals in two different clinics in Tanzania. He did some sightseeing, as well, including a visit to Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Arusha, Tanzania.

Credit: Provided by Muhammad Shivji

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Like many Penn State Lehigh Valley students, Muhammad Shivji seized academic opportunities over winter break; but unlike the typical internship or career shadow, Shivji's pursuit required a passport. The third year biobehavioral health (BBH) student at Penn State Lehigh Valley used his semester gap to gain first-hand experience in the medical field in Tanzania, Africa.

He spent a month shadowing physicians and staff at a gynecological clinic and outpatient care clinic in Tanzania. His grandfather, a practicing physician in the East African country, put Shivji in contact with two physicians who agreed to let him shadow them for four weeks.  

For someone like Shivji, who plans to attend medical school after graduating from Penn State, watching the medical staff consult with and treat patients in real time was invaluable.

“This gave me more of an idea of what I want to go into,” he said. “I’m leaning toward anesthesiology, but I’m keeping an open mind. I might consider gynecology.” 

He noticed some clear differences in the level of care provided in Tanzania versus the United States.

“I shadowed at a hospital here in the United States, as well, and there are some extreme differences in the quality of care between the two countries,” he said. “What I noticed is that it’s not necessarily a lack of care, but a lack of resources. It’s normal for physicians and patients there to be in those circumstances. It was nice to see how they adapt but still provide quality care.” 

According to Shivji, Tanzanian medical professionals are accustomed to treating patients without certain medical devices. Shivji said he saw this countless times.

“I was in Arusha, a relatively big city, so the hospitals are fairly large, but they still lack resources like certain medical instruments and diagnostic tools," he said. "MRIs are available but very expensive because the MRI machine is an expensive piece of equipment [for a hospital or clinic].”

Hygiene is also treated differently, according to Shivji.

“For example, rubber gloves are readily available, but physicians were trained without them, so many prefer not to wear them during routine examinations," he said, noting that they must still be worn during surgical procedures. 

His grandfather inspired Shivji's choice of career.

“I went on house calls with him [when I was younger]," Shivji said. "I saw how he interacted with his patients and found it so interesting. He gave so much to those people and asked for so little in return, which I found admirable. I would like to continue that.” 

Ultimately, Shivji said he wants to earn a medical degree to help the citizens of Tanzania. He lived there for 12 years before coming to Pennsylvania. His goal is to complete his undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States and return to the country to practice medicine.