LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Wanderlust has propelled Jennifer Tymon across the globe.
New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Namibia and Uganda all hold formative memories for the 30-year-old redhead.
But now, it’s back to America, at least for the next eight years.
She recently returned to her childhood home in Lancaster from her fourth (nonconsecutive) year in Africa working on palliative care infrastructure just in time to ship off to medical school at Loyola University in Chicago.
Though she’s wanted to be a doctor since she was a girl, the disconnect from interacting with people she felt studying pre-med disciplines put her on a different path for nearly 10 years.
Most recently, she worked for a year in Uganda with a sub-program of the American Cancer Society called Treat the Pain, which endeavors to improve patient access to oral morphine in low- and middle-income countries.
Tymon says palliative care has earned international recognition in part due to the African HIV/AIDS pandemic, as those patients require a great deal of pain and symptom management.
But there can’t be palliative care if there isn’t pain medication available. Only 19 of 59 African countries have even limited access to oral morphine.
Treat the Pain is partnered with Global Access to Pain Relief Initiative, which aims to make essential pain medicines available worldwide by 2020.
“Oral morphine is the drug of choice for health care workers,” she says. “It’s affordable, easy to use; for people in pain, there’s very low risk of addiction and it just works well.”
Tymon’s major goal during her year abroad was to increase the amount of districts able to distribute the opiate in Uganda.
“In districts that are unaccredited, you hear about people dying in pain,” Tymon says. “It’s not uncommon in Africa for people without access to pain medication to kill themselves, because they can’t imagine going on without relief.”
To accomplish her goals, Tymon’s day-to-day work included traveling to different Ugandan districts. To certify a district, she needed to inspect the facility where morphine would be stored for safety regulations.
For instance, a double lock is required, two people must be approved to sign out the key, there must be a provider trained in palliative care and morphine distribution and the supervisors must be supportive and understanding.
She also helped Hospice Africa Uganda become the national morphine producer by standardizing their processes and figured out distribution of the opiate to Uganda’s public and private sectors.
Over the year, she was able to help six districts become accredited, bringing the total to 66 out of 112 that have access to oral morphine.
If that wasn’t enough responsibility, she took to extreme sports in her free time.
“Doing extreme sports is really bonding — you go out on the river for a day and you all nearly die,” she says laughing. She’s grateful for the friends she made at yoga and with the mountaineering club of Uganda.
Temperatures tend to stay between 75 and 83 with a breeze, and a tropical climate means rain can only pause activities for 20 to 30 minutes. White-water kayaking on the Nile, hiking and mountaineering were options every day.
She also emphasizes the beauty of the raw country.
“It’s so green you can’t believe how many shades of green there are! And the roads are red clay, so the color contrast is quite striking.”
Tymon never anticipated she would study and live in Africa. She did her undergraduate thesis on HIV/AIDS in Latin America and minored in Spanish. She was hired out of school by National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) to help the company develop their work in South America.
Three months after she was hired, though, they told her she would need to start learning about Africa — she would be going to Namibia as soon as she could learn everything possible about health systems in African countries.
This wound up being two years, where Tymon availed herself of all lectures, embassy programs and classes she could find in Washington, D.C.
In 2007 she went to Namibia to help NHPCO set up a Southern Africa office and lay plans for a palliative care plan throughout the country, including the integration of palliative care into HIV and cancer frameworks.
It was during her three years in the country when she realized she always made excuses to see patients and relished one-on-one interactions. These insights pointed her once more toward medicine.
In between Namibia and Uganda, Tymon earned a post-baccalaureate degree at Penn State and took the MCAT.
She went to Uganda with Treat the Pain because she wanted to do something useful in the year between applying to and hearing back from medical schools.
Yearning for global citizenship began when she was about 14 years old, the year she went abroad alone for the first time to New Zealand and Australia. When she neglected to let her parents know she was alive and well until the fifth day overseas, that’s when, she says, “they knew they weren’t going to pin me down.”
“I think once you’re a global citizen, you forever are. Once you know what’s out there, you can’t forget it.”
She did have a piece of Lancaster with her while she was abroad — Wilbur chocolate. She would ask her mother to mail her some.
“Ugandans put wax in their chocolate so it doesn’t melt,” Tymon says, laughing. “It doesn’t compare.”
Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , http://lancasteronline.com