Nursing student answers call for help

David Wolfer has always known he wanted to make an impact, do something bigger than himself, even if that means living without modern conveniences and forgoing a traditional college experience. 

“I felt called to better understand and find more meaning in life than the American dream,” he says. 

This summer Wolfer, a senior nursing major, built his own study abroad experience, traveling to Uganda to work as a nurse in an open-air hospital. There he saw firsthand the obstacles in bringing quality health care to at-risk populations. It’s an experience that has changed his life. 

Five days a week for six weeks, Wolfer worked in the Mulago Hospital in the infectious disease, medical emergency and pediatrics units. The hospital, the best in the country, ER ward had only one blood pressure machine, two oxygen units, no fresh drinking water, almost no electricity and few nurses. The nursing ratio there was 50 to 1, compared with 4 to 1 in the U.S., so families do most of the nursing care, he says. 

“My job was rounding on about 50 patients in those eight hours and trying my best not to hurt anyone and fulfill the orders of doctors,” Wolfer says. 

His worst moments came while working the overnight shift, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., when the doctors and nurses went to sleep on the floors at 1 a.m. No one was receiving or working with patients. 

“On this night, about four patients died of incredibly preventable things – an oxygen tank wasn’t delivered. One person died in the hallway because no one could admit him into the ER,” he says. “Death is horrible but seeing the sadness of their loved ones and knowing that these things were completely preventable … realizing that. I’m still wrestling with that.” 

Wolfer didn’t come to college knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he had a desire to care for people and an interest in international issues. During his freshman year, Patrick Hickey, a nursing professor, put it all in perspective. 

“He asked some really good questions my freshman year. I already knew my interest but I hadn’t done enough self-analysis to really know what I wanted to do,” Wolfer says. “Through talking with him, it helped me verbalize that, in my life, that’s what I wanted to go for.”   

His experience this summer helped define that direction more and inspired him to go back to Africa. This semester, Wolfer was named as a recipient of the Rotary Global Grant to study at Makerere University in Uganda with a focus in the policy and management of HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases after he graduates in May. 

Wolfer hopes continuing his studies will help him find solutions to the bigger problems facing health care in countries like Uganda rather than struggling one patient at a time. 

“There’s a place in my heart for Uganda, but one of the things that this summer taught me is that I need to be more prepared to address some of the larger issues in play,” he says. “I haven’t given up on Uganda, but there are some big challenges that need to be addressed to help the people of Uganda that I can’t do by myself.”

Learn more

For more information about applying for the Rotary Global Grant and other opportunities, contact the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs to find out about upcoming workshops and information sessions.  

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about