Alumna Rolls Up Sleeves at Uganda Hospital

Meg Zomorodi, BSN ’01, PhD ’09, went to Uganda last summer as part of a medical mission organized by Duke University Medical Center. She and her team worked in Mulago Hospital — the hospital where several scenes from The Last King of Scotland were filmed. She plans to return this summer with several SON students to continue the work she helped start.

This is what she had to say about her experience:

I’ve always wanted to participate in a medical mission trip so when Michael Haglund, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Duke University Medical Center approached me about going to Uganda for two weeks, I didn’t hesitate.

Without knowing any specifics, my husband and I agreed to be a part of this 28-person medical team, determined to make a difference in the lives of the Ugandan people. We had no idea the impact that Uganda would make on our lives and how determined we would both become to maintain a continued relationship with this beautiful country.

What started out as a mission trip to conduct medical services for the people of Uganda grew into a massive undertaking. In January 2007, Haglund traveled to Uganda to tour the operating facilities at Mulago Hospital. What he found there was a flashback to the 1960′s where physicians operated with ether and the operating room nurse was the true canary in the coal mine – when the nurse passed out from the ether fumes, surgeries stopped for the day.

There was one ventilator in the 1,500-bed hospital, and it was only used for new admissions. Therefore, if a patient came into the hospital and the ventilator was being used, the family of the patient using the ventilator had to decide to withdraw life support or manually ventilate the patient. After this experience, our plan shifted to include donating medical equipment. When all was said and done, nine tons of equipment were donated to Mulago Hospital. With help from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing (SON) faculty and students, more than 100 textbooks were donated as well. This was especially important to me since education was my top priority.

When we arrived in Kampala, word had spread about the U.S. medical mission and more than 100 people had driven across the country to have access to this free service. We unloaded the equipment and spent 12 hours unpacking and organizing our supplies.

The next morning we began our first cases. When we realized we didn’t have a phone or any way to stay in touch with the operating room, I donned a mask and ran back and forth between the three operating rooms in order to maintain contact between them and the recovery room. During the four and a half days in the operating room, we successfully completed 30 neurosurgical cases. Just as importantly, the intensive care unit and recovery rooms were completely revamped, and the nurses gained a wealth of education.

When I first arrived in the recovery room, I met Agnes, the only recovery room nurse. She told me her role was to make sure that the patient was still breathing and, then, send him or her to the floor where the nurse-to-patient ratio was 1-to-50! After unpacking our equipment, I provided information on assessment and post-op recovery, and my audience grew everyday. By the end of the week, we had a full time recovery room staff of eight nurses who performed full head-to-toe assessments, monitored vital signs for two hours, and, then, determined when, and if, the patient was stable enough to be discharged out of the recovery room.

The chief nurse told me on our last day in Mulago that theses nurses had now been hired to the recovery room, and their plan was to transform the recovery room into an overflow intensive care unit. I also spoke with her about continuing my relationship with Uganda and made a promise to her that I would never forget the wonderful nurses at Mulago Hospital.

I am doing my best to complete this promise as a representative of the SON. This summer five junior BSN nursing students will travel to Mulago Hospital as part of their summer work experience. Three (Sarah Day Dickson, Jenna Woodruff, and Jamie Cash) are planning to stay for a full three months, and the other two (Alison Helmink and Kristen Poe) will travel back with me in July. This is hopefully just the beginning of a continuous relationship with this wonderful country. For those interested in reading or supporting this experience, please visit the official blog space at:

3 Responses to “Alumna Rolls Up Sleeves at Uganda Hospital”

  1. Anne Webb Says:

    Meg’s international work with students is only one of her amazing accomplishments this year. She also won the prestigious Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The student who nominated Meg had this to say about her.

    “I feel that because of this summer’s rotation working with Meg Zomorodi I will benefit more from the rest of the curriculum and clinical experiences of the Bachelors of Science in Nursing program at UNC. I am primed to practice advanced skills, and to think through more complicated scenarios because of her teaching and encouragement throughout the semester. I highly recommend that she receive recognition for her ability to provide a safe, stimulating and nurturing learning environment for students”

    Meg received her award on the floor at the Dean Smith Center at halftime of the the UNC vs. Virginia Tech basketball game. She is a true Carolina champion.

  2. Meg Zomorodi Says:

    Let me just say that this opportunity has grown so much. I now have 8 students traveling with me to Kampala this summer (Sarah Day Dickson,
    Jenna Woodruff, Jamie Cash, Alison Helmink,
    Kristen Poe, James Ludemann, Brooke Bailey, Katie Horrow). They will get to interact with the nursing students in Uganda and share their experiences with them and vice versa. I cannot wait for these students to share their experiences with you! They will work hard but gain so much!

  3. Don Lieber Says:

    Hi Meg,
    I read your story with great interest; what a fascinating experience. I am wondering if you could assist me in a related endeavour — I am currently a Surgical Technology Student at New York University. In short, I am going on my first medical mission, to Ethiopia, shortly. But I am mostly interested in establishing a relationship with Mulago (or similar) hospital in Uganda — as I will be travelling there semi-regularly in the coming few years. Do you have a contact email for an appropriate Doctor (preferably Surgeon, or OR Administrator) to pass to me? I am interested in working with ‘scrub’ students or other OR staff, on the role of the scrub tech, reducing SSI, maintaining sterile fields, etc. and, subsequently, teaching ‘scrub’ to OR staff there once I am certified etc. I’ve also been given a green light from the World Heath Organization to ‘mentor’ appropriate staff for their recently released “Surgical Safety Initiative”. Any direction, including contact with the other students staying longer in Kampala, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.
    Thank you… Don Lieber


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