Dr. Jennifer Cotton graduated from the University of Kentucky Medical School on Saturday. In the next few weeks, she has to pack up her Lexington home, prepare to speak at a medical conference in California and move to Columbus to begin her residency in emergency medicine at Ohio State University.
But tops on her to-do list: raising money for medical supplies for earthquake-stricken Nepal.
"This is an opportunity to actually save lives," Cotton said Friday during a rare break.
The California native spent two weeks in Nepal in February, teaching ultrasound techniques and skills to critical care and intensive care doctors from Nepal, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. She was invited by the Nepal Critical Care Development Foundation to serve as a trainer for the workshop in Kathmandu.
Cotton, 30, was asked to attend the conference after members of the Nepal Critical Care Development Foundation saw her ultrasound presentation at a conference in Montreal.
Cotton was the only American and the only medical school student invited to the Nepal conference.
In addition to providing training for the country's doctors, the Nepal Critical Care Development Fund raises money for intensive care supply boxes, which can cost as much as $4,000.
Since the area was hit by two earthquakes — a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25 and a magnitude 7.3 quake on Tuesday, medical supplies are scarce, Cotton said.
But the need is great. The earthquakes have killed more than 8,000 people. Thousands more have been injured.
The foundation gets these supplies directly to the hospitals that are providing care to patients, she said. The foundation had the kits on hand before the earthquakes, but those supplies have been depleted.
"They work with local suppliers, so there is no problem with them getting the supplies if they have the money," Cotton said.
The hospitals in Nepal are struggling to care for thousands of patients with very little traditional medical equipment, she said.
"There are only 12 respirators in the entire country of 22 million people," Cotton explained. "So a family member has to come in and pump by hand if someone needs oxygen."
Another key difference: there is no medicine in Nepal hospitals. Family members have to go to a pharmacy — not located on the hospital grounds — to buy medicine and supplies.
Nepal is a poor country with no insurance. Many can't afford the cost of the medicine or the supplies.
The critical care boxes provide not only needed medicine and supplies such as IV catheters but save time because a family member doesn't have to go to a pharmacy, she said.
"That lost time is critical," Cotton said. "These critical care boxes actually save lives. This allows everyday people — not just to doctors — to save someone's life."
After the first quake on April 25, Cotton and the other doctors and medical residents who attended the February conference frantically checked email and Facebook to try to find out what had happened to the foundation's staff and many of the doctors they met in February.
"We have heard from all of them, and they are all safe," Cotton said.
But it was a tense few days.
"One of them didn't check in until more than 24 hours afterwards," Cotton said. "He had been working for nearly 24 hours straight."
Another doctor was performing heart surgery when the first quake hit. The patient's chest was open. Although the clinic was shaking, and staff had to cover the patient as the building rocked on its foundation, the doctor and the medical staff finished the surgery. The patient survived.
"They are able to do so much with so little," Cotton said. "I am so impressed by what they can do."
Currently, Cotton is focusing on helping the foundation raise money for the critical care boxes. But she's in the process of starting her own foundation to raise money to buy ultrasound equipment for Nepalese hospitals.
After she finishes her residency at Ohio State University, she hopes to return to UK to do a fellowship with Dr. Matt Dawson, UK HealthCare director of point of care for ultrasound. It was Dawson's training during Cotton's four years of medical school that gave her the skills and confidence to teach doctors who have been practicing for years, she said.
She plans to return to Nepal next year.
"It was a life-changing experience," Cotton said. "They are the nicest, kindest people."