Healing beyond borders: UC Clermont surgical tech alum makes impactful mission to Africa
UC Clermont Surgical Technology graduate Hailey Beeston. (Photo by Danny Kidd)
The terrified 5-year-old boy’s cries echoed down the crowded hospital hallway. His parents had brought him to Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda, to finally have a large tumor removed from his neck — but he was afraid of the strangers in scrubs who spoke a different language, the bright lights and unfamiliar instruments.
May is hot and muggy in Uganda. The hospital has no air conditioning. Open windows, even in the lone operating room that often handles two surgeries at a time, welcome the only relief — and plenty of flies — throughout the facility.
Hailey Beesten, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati Clermont’s Surgical Technology program, was waiting for the patient in the OR. She knew — as he didn’t — that the surgery would change his life for the better.
“I’m sure it was the scariest thing he ever had to do,” said Beesten, who graduated in 2022 and now works as a certified surgical technologist in head and neck procedures at UC Medical Center. The tumor was benign, and by the next day, the boy’s spirits had lifted.
“He was so happy, running around the hospital,” said Beesten. “We gave him a toy. The mother was very appreciative. He had lived with this debilitating tumor for years with no one to treat it.”
The patient will stay with Beesten as one of many she had the opportunity to help during her weeklong mission trip this spring. The trip is a regular endeavor for Dr. Chad Zender in UC’s Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, whom Beesten assists in neurosurgeries and procedures addressing cancer of the head and neck. Zender is also president of the nonprofit organization Head and Neck Outreach, which aims to improve head and neck health care in the developing world.
According to the organization, Uganda has just 30 ear, nose and throat specialists in the country and only one fellowship-trained ENT oncology specialist — in a nation of more than 45 million people.
Beesten said she didn’t hesitate when Zender invited her and another UC nurse to join a team of healthcare workers from across the United States on this latest mission. “I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.
Upon arriving in Africa, Beesten was shocked at the poverty and lack of health care she encountered. “The whole experience was humbling and eye opening,” she said. “You don’t really understand what it’s like until you see it firsthand. Their healthcare is basically non-existent.”
For a week, Beesten’s team worked 14 hours a day with only lunch breaks, completing a total of 16 surgeries. She said patients awaiting surgery sat in the halls, with no open beds available, and families provided the bulk of post-operative care. Most of the tumors were large and advanced.
But the Ugandan medical staff, despite having few resources, gleaned all the knowledge they could the U.S. group, learning more about sterile practices and surgical techniques.
“The people were amazing,” Beesten said. “They want to improve the care they offer; they waste nothing, reuse everything. And the patients were so happy to be able to get the surgeries they needed. It was exhausting, hard work, but it was completely worth it to help the patients and staff.”
The trip was not Beesten’s first brush with a challenge. When she arrived at UC hospital — a world-class, Level 1 trauma center — she felt overwhelmed and daunted.
“It’s not an easy place to work,” she said. “But a year later, I’ve already gone on this trip. I work in neurosurgery. I’m comfortable in my skills and feel like I could go into any type of surgery. I’m so thankful for the foundation I got at UC Clermont.”
The work ethic developed at the college, Beesten said, prepared her for the daily challenges of the surgical suite, both at home and abroad. UC Clermont surgical technology students must complete 600 hours of clinical training before graduating with their associate degree. Students also must pass a state exam to be certified, and faculty spend a significant amount of time preparing them for the test.
Beesten knew she wanted to work in healthcare and was originally drawn to the program because it was close to home — she graduated from Williamsburg High School — and offered small classes sizes and affordable tuition.
“The smaller program made for a hands-on experience,” said Beesten. “If we had questions, the professors were able to help us at any time. They did whatever they could to help us succeed.”
Beesten said above all, the mission trip reaffirmed her choice of career. She plans to stay in health care for the long term, and while she eventually might consider nursing or another advanced degree, she is soaking up all the experience her current role has to offer.
“Not a lot of people can say that they get to do surgeries every day,” said Beesten. “I love the doctors I work with, and most of all, I love helping patients. It’s really rewarding.”
Learn more about UC Clermont’s Surgical Technology program at https://ucclermont.edu/surg-tech.
UC Clermont College is located in the center of Clermont County on 91 beautiful, wooded acres in Batavia Township. The college is an accredited, open-access institution offering more than 60 programs and degrees. UC Clermont is part of the nationally recognized University of Cincinnati. For more information, call 513-556-5400 or visit www.ucclermont.edu.