Summer trip to Africa reaffirms interest in health careers for UNK students

Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529,

Polly Davis, left, and Kelsie Musil, right, spent two weeks in Africa visiting orphanages and working in a clinic. The biology majors at the University of Nebraska at Kearney said the trip inspired them to pursue careers in the medical field.

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Kelsie Musil and Polly Davis knew they wanted to pursue health careers.

And a summer trip to Africa confirmed that the University of Nebraska at Kearney biology majors are on the right path.

“It reinforced what I want to do with my life,” Davis said.

Musil, from Gretna, and Davis of Grand Island traveled with five people from Davis’ church during the two-week mission trip.

A group from the New Life Community Church in Grand Island planned the trip to Africa to visit Barb Sorenson, a church missionary who was living in the Congo, and Marjie Heier, a former physician at the VA Medical Center in Grand Island, who runs a medical clinic in Zambia.

“We wanted to go and support them and see what they needed,” Davis said.

Polly Davis of Grand Island plays with children in an orphanage in Africa. “They hug you and they don’t let go,” Davis said. “They are just ecstatic that you are there. It doesn’t matter if you brought anything, they just love on you.”

Davis mentioned the trip to Musil, who jumped at the chance to travel abroad. Both are students of biology professor Paul Twigg.

“There’s a real importance for understanding different cultures,” Twigg said. “It’s important to break out of that shell and be able to understand the world.”

The group traveled July 25 to Aug. 9 to the Congo, where they visited three orphanages and a prison, met women infected with HIV and went to the Congo River. Musil and Davis also worked in a clinic in Zambia.

While handing out balloons and playing bingo with children at one orphanage, Musil and Davis were struck by how grateful the children seemed.

“They hug you and they don’t let go,” Davis said. “They are just ecstatic that you are there. It doesn’t matter if you brought anything, they just love on you.”

Both students were anxious to help out in the clinic located in a rural area near Chongwe, Zambia to gain experience working in a medical setting.

Davis, a non-traditional student who previously worked as a pharmacy technician for 20 years, helped assess patients, deliver medications to patient rooms and go over discharge instructions. Musil helped organize files and inventory supplies.

Kelsie Musil of Gretna was surprised by the warm welcome she and her group received during a two-week trip to Africa. "I was surprised by how nice people were," she said. "Everyone just came up and talked to you. They were so open, nice and genuine."

“I love patients. That’s why I want to be a physician,” Davis said. “I don’t get to work with patients yet because I’m not to that point in school. The idea of getting to go be with patients now, I was all about that.”

Davis, who has a minor in public health, plans to apply to medical school and hopes to go into family practice.

“I have serious passion for patients and about taking care of people and helping,” she said.

Musil, who has an emphasis in health sciences with her biology major, said the experience inspired her to pursue a graduate degree in molecular immunology. She hopes to work for the Centers for Disease Control. She will graduate with a bachelor of science in biology in May.

She said the trip inspired her to continue her education and earn her Ph.D.

“While I was over there it confirmed that sdwas what I wanted to do,” Musil said.

Musil has participated in the Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Summer Student Research Program and the Ed and Betty Cook Fellowship. Her research has focused on algae and the types of stressors that cause algae to accumulate lipids.

She has presented her research at American Society of Plant Biologists conferences in Austin, Texas, and Providence, R.I. She now works for Twigg under a National Science Foundation grant.

Kelsie Musil, second from left, a biology major from Gretna, and Polly Davis, left of center, a biology major from Grand Island, spend time with African families after a church service in Zambia, Africa. The students visited orphanages, met women infected with HIV and worked in a clinic during their two-week mission trip.