Jocelyn Gregg showed her Sycamore spirit of service by working a week in a Kenyan medical clinic helping patients with a variety of conditions and illnesses — from allergies to lymphoma.
Jocelyn Gregg, ’12, stared at the young girl, Lydia, in front of her. Her heart sank. She knew she wouldn’t be able to treat the 13-year-old Kenyan, not there in that clinic in the slum.
The young Kenyan came to Gregg at the clinic, because she had stopped growing at 8 years old, a few inches shy of 5 feet tall. Signs pointed to a problem with her thyroid, but she needed a specialist’s expertise that Gregg couldn’t provide.
With a heavy heart, Gregg watched Lydia walk away, untreated.
That was the first day of the clinic.
Gregg, who earned her nursing degree from Indiana State University, traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, for 10 days to serve in medical clinics in under-served areas. She returned with hundreds of pictures and an even deeper passion to serve people through her profession.
Gregg works at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis as a registered nurse in pre- and post-surgical care. Although she knew approaching her boss after three months on the job to request time off wasn’t ideal, she wanted to pursue mission work and use her degree in a country that lacks proper access to health care.
“I know I’m new,” Gregg told her supervisor, “but I really want to do this.”
Last fall, she journeyed 25 hours during three flights from Indianapolis to Kenya through the Christian organization, “Mission to the World,” which sponsors a variety of missions and medical trips.
A local church in Nairobi hosted the group of travelers, who first toured the city and the largest slum in Nairobi called Kibera, an area burdened with heaps of trash and extensive poverty. Unlike any place Gregg had seen in the United States, the site’s smells churned her stomach, as she considered the wealth in her own nation compared to the immense need in the third-world country.
The team established makeshift clinics in churches and a slum called Mukuru Kwa Njenga, supplying the medications, lab equipment and even Dollar Store reading glasses for the elderly. The clinics welcomed Kenyans with a variety of ailments — from allergies and infections to blindness and Berkitt’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that produces large masses on the face.
On many occasions, it was up to the young college graduate to diagnose illnesses and write prescriptions.
“It stretched my comfort zone, because here (in the United States), I would never be able to do that,” she said. “It also allowed me to gain some independence.”
While many patients received the medications and care they needed, Gregg also saw people walk away untreated, like Lydia. In some cases, the diagnosis was too risky to treat, and other cases, patients’ ailments required specialization the clinic couldn’t provide.
“Sometimes the only thing you can give them is a prayer, because you can’t provide everything they need,” Gregg said. “That was a hard part for me, just walking away knowing we could only do so much.”
For the first time in her life, Gregg felt like an intruder in a culture that wasn’t her own. She felt tempted to take pictures of Kenyans without asking permission and gawk at the cultural differences. However, she soon realized the importance of not making the Kenyans simply an object of her sightseeing, she said: “They’re people, too.”
Gregg learned how to work with cultural differences and similarities in the nursing classroom at Indiana State, where she discovered her zeal for nursing. The program prepared her well, she said, and academic adviser Betsy Frank encouraged her to pursue her passions.
“What set her apart were her clear goals and commitment to provide care to the underserved, who are in desperate need of healthcare,” Frank said. “You could see she had such passion for eliminating health care disparities between various populations.”
This passion, in addition to other factors, contributed to Gregg taking a leap post-graduation to experience a new culture. Unattached and free of debt, she recognized the desire in herself to do something meaningful with her degree that she worked so hard to attain.
“There is a part in everyone that feels good about helping someone or doing something important that matters,” Gregg said. “I believe that we’re all created innately with a desire to be productive, to work and do things that benefit people. You get to do that more freely when you’re not bogged down by the things of life as a new grad.”
Since graduating, Gregg understands that a strong awareness of self and others contributes to effective and unbiased practice.
“They teach you in nursing school be self-aware and know what you believe and why you believe it,” she said. “It really impacts how we treat others, especially when we’re giving care to them in vulnerable moments.”
But perhaps the most prominent motivation for Gregg to serve in Kenya came from her becoming a Christian while in college — a decision that gave her greater vision for her trip.
“I wanted to leave them with something that lasts past our lifetime,” Gregg said. “Going to Kenya was really an opportunity for me to bring healing not just on a physical level, but to share hope with people.”
Like Gregg, Frank has traveled overseas to practice nursing — in both Thailand and Finland — so she understands the mutual benefit for patients and nurses alike.
“By traveling outside the U.S., one gains a much deeper appreciation of the healthcare disparities in our own country, as well as a deeper understanding of the various cultures our patients come from,” Frank said. “Nurses learn that our way of delivering care in the U.S. is not the only way to deliver care.”
“There is a lot to be learned from people in other parts of the world, and I think we go there with the intention that they really need us to be there. Sometimes we can be prideful in that,” she said.
Her advice was simple: “Be all in. Be willing to give, and give up comfort.”
Gregg noted that interactions with Kenyans taught her about sacrifice and what it means to do without. She recalled a man named Hesbon, who arrived at the clinic with his ill brother. Hesbon told Gregg that he, along with his mother, provided for their family of six by selling doughnuts in the slums.
“That makes me aware of how I view people, how I live,” she said.
While serving people of other nations is an important task, Gregg said she also feels a “burden” to help those to whom she has easier access to in the United States.
“You can plant seeds when you go overseas, but when you build relationships here, or wherever you are, you can really mold a life,” she said.
Despite being in a profession that sometimes tests Gregg’s patience and leaves her tired, she’s dedicated to living positively and bringing hope to hopeless patients — from Nairobi to Indianapolis.
“I work for God and the purpose that He’s given me to just love people well,” she said. “(Patients) need hope, and they need someone to be a light to them. They need someone to hold their hand and tell them it’s going to be okay.”
Patients like Lydia and Hesbon’s brother.
During her week in Kenya, Gregg witnessed more than 400 people seek treatment from the clinic. Not only were many able to receive relief from allergies, fungi and other conditions, but they also experienced a little bit of hope.
“Our clinic was very basic,” Gregg said, “but to those people, it was everything.”