Thesis Whirlwind

by Logan

Whew! In some ways it feels like I can finally come up for air. The specialist doctors at Kibuye have just finished a ridiculously busy time, supervising research, editing papers, and judging the thesis defenses for over 40 medical students in about a month’s time. 

Carlan Wendler, Alliance Niyukuri, George Watts, Greg Sund, and Logan Banks chat in between students' theses

Why this sudden sense of urgency?

Burundi recently changed the way that they authorize doctors to practice medicine in Burundi. In the old system, as soon as a medical student defended their thesis (a final research project that is the final step before finishing medical school) they could apply for a license and start practicing as a physician. There was no pressure to finish before a certain deadline, so the work that this thesis project represents could be spread throughout the year. This also means that the work for the specialist doctors that act as “directors” of the students could be spread out as well. If someone was directing 4 or 5 students, they could do perhaps one a month so that the work wouldn’t be overwhelming.  

But a few months ago, the government said they would only authorize these new physicians once per year. This meant that a large group of medical students were suddenly desperate to finish their final research projects before the end of the year. 

What is it like to direct a thesis project?

The student comes to a specialist and asks them if they would be their director. Depending on their workload, availability, and other factors, the doctor agrees. The director helps the student come up with a research idea, review the research process, edit the paper (several times actually — which is more like a book, with an average length of around 60 pages), and help the student get ready to present the research and answer questions about it in an oral “defense.” This represents several weeks to months of work for the student, and several days to weeks of work for the director. 

When the student is ready to defend their thesis, the director recruits two other specialists to sit on the “jury” with them, and after a 15 minute oral presentation by the student, each person has a chance to make comments about the study and to ask questions to the student. 

Jason Fader, Alliance Niyukuri, and Ted John sit on a jury
The whole process from start to finish takes over an hour. Then the grade is given, and the student immediately takes the “Serment de Genève”, the French equivalent to the Hippocratic Oath.  

Just some of the 41 medical students as they take their "Oath" after successfully defending their theses.

This process was then repeated over 40 times between December 6th and January 11th. 

Greg Sund, Rachel McLaughlin, and Logan Banks celebrate with the new doctor Abel Nzoto after he successfully defended his thesis.
As you can imagine, this was an incredibly busy time for all the doctors at Kibuye. There are 10 specialists doctors currently at Kibuye. 41 students x 3 doctors per jury = roughly 123 times that a combination of 3 doctors sat on a jury. Some days there were 5 theses in the same day. That is nearly 8 hours of defenses. Sometimes one doctor would sit on 3 juries in the same day, reading and critiquing research in French for 5 hours. During this month-long period, one doctor actually sat on 26 juries, 9 of which as the director. 

This also meant that all the other doctors at Kibuye (the Burundian generalists and interns in the Stage Professionnel program) all had to pitch in to help the hospital services continue to run smoothly during this time. There were days that I was supposed to be rounding on Pediatrics that I could hardly make it over to the ward. I am so thankful (and I know all of us are) to the other doctors on our services that helped keep things going during this hectic time. Carlan even organized a “Thank You” dessert for our Burundian colleagues.

"Thank you! Thank you! Dear Colleagues!"

We are so thankful for the help from all the doctors at Kibuye. We are so thankful for all of these new doctors that just finished their theses. These 41 new doctors represent so much more than the work that went into the past month. They represent years of hard work -- on their part, and on the part of all the professors that taught them (whether in the classroom or on the wards) how to care for their patients in a compassionate, Christ-like way. 

Forty-one new doctors to help care for patients in Burundi (and beyond). What an answer to prayer!  That makes all this craziness worth it. 

But for the moment at least, I know that we are all ready for a nice long break from any more theses.  

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