Joliet grad gets cultural experiences studying medicine abroad

MORRIS – Hospital conditions in the east African country of Kenya are not the same as in the United States or Europe, Mark Kijek found out this fall.

Kijek, the son of Morris physicians Mark and Barbara Kijek, is in his fourth year of medical school at Jagiellonian University Medical College in Krakow, Poland, and just finished up an elective rotation in Mombasa, Kenya – two very different experiences, both in culture and medicine.

Surgical nurses at Morris Hospital donated medical supplies for his visit to Mombasa, something Kijek said was much needed and appreciated. It was a learning experience, he said of spending his one month elective in the Kenyan hospital and one that will stay with him forever.

“It was kind of a shock,” Kijek said about the experience. “Some of the patients I saw will definitely change the way I perceive medicine and life. ... It was a great learning opportunity, and I’m very glad I did it.”

Kijek said he would like to return to Kenya someday to give back to the hospital as a practicing physician, not just as a medical student learning the ropes. In addition to observing and learning, he was able to help out by stitching, bandaging, changing catheters and rounding on patients.

The hospital he attended was a public hospital where there were few specialists. There were many cases where he thought patients were mismanaged.

Parts of the experience were difficult for him to witness

“I think the most challenging part was seeing patients dying and no one really knew what to do,” he said.

The rooms were dirty, he said, with open windows, where cats and birds and bugs could freely enter. Each ward was a large room with around 30 beds. Mosquito netting was draped over each bed at night.

The “isolation ward” was a long, open balcony where contagious patients were kept.

Kijek said he did admire the staff’s ingenuity and necessary frugality.

“They work with so few resources,” he said. “For traction, they use a five-liter jug of water and tie it to a patient’s leg with some string. They make due.”

The items donated by the Morris Hospital surgery staff were put to good use, he said. There were syringes, gloves, different types of needles, a variety of catheters and more.

“We saw those supplies being used,” he said. “It was a really great thing.”

Kijek graduated from Joliet West High School. While serving as a “wish granter” with the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Illinois, he had several experiences with children that moved him further toward a proclivity of pediatrics, which is his mother’s specialty.

One experience involved working with a 13-year-old girl who had ovarian cancer. It was Kijek’s father who had initially diagnosed her after several other physicians had dismissed her symptoms as puberty-related.

He saw that his father had most likely saved her life with the diagnosis, and Kijek said she is doing well today. He said he wants to be that kind of physician himself – one who will really listen to his patients and spend the extra time to find out exactly what’s going on.

Kijek chose to attend medical school at Jagiellonian University Medical College in Poland because of its good reputation and because it’s where his parents went. They actually met there, he said. Kijek lives with his brother, Jason, who also graduated from the medical school and chose to stay in Poland. The Kijeks have deep family roots in the country, with many relatives still there.

Kijek speaks Polish, as well, which he said helps him at the school, in the hospitals and around the city.

“It’s a beautiful city and a wonderful place to study,” he said.

Most of the students at the medical school are European, he said, from such countries as Norway, Sweden, and France, and several from India and Malaysia. Kijek also is taking the opportunity to travel throughout Europe while he is there and has visited Rome, Budapest, Belgium and Norway. He’s in Joliet for the holidays and will return to school in January.