Providing Medical Care in a Developing Country
When I was first accepted into PA school two years ago, one of the components of the curriculum that resonated with me was my program’s emphasis on Global Health. I had researched the medical mission trip that the most recent class had taken, and thought it may be something I would pursue when the time came. As I was approaching the end of my didactic year, the opportunity to volunteer arose and I made the decision to jump on it. My classmates and I fundraised for months, collecting donations of medical supplies, coordinating parties, selling candles, and promoting a “Zumba for a Cause” benefit fitness class. Through our hard work and determination, we were able to raise enough to fund the entire cost of a trip for myself and five classmates; with extra funds to purchase additional medical supplies. At the beginning of January, 2016, we boarded a plane at John F. Kennedy airport bound for Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and departed for a country that will now hold a special place in my heart.
The next year on January 8, 2017, I again made that same journey with 22 of my classmates.
This time I was armed with all of the patient care experience I gained from clinical rotations. I performed physical exams for 13-year-old pregnant girls living in government housing after being removed from their homes due to abuse they suffered at the hands of their families. I educated patients on therapeutic lifestyle changes after they had been newly diagnosed with hypertension or diabetes. I gave children antibiotics and vaccinations they needed and provided the elderly with care and comfort. At our “pop-up” health clinic, I checked blood sugars under cell-phone light; as there was no lighting in the room we were given. We had patients come in with complaints that warranted additional lab work or imaging that was unavailable to us, let alone to them in our absence. We sent patients to the hospital for insulin, only to find out that they had been sent home on three days of metformin without follow-up. It was frustrating, devastating, and eye-opening.
Coming to the realization that these patients have no access to primary care, no ability to have follow-up lab work drawn and minimal access to prenatal care is upsetting and humbling. Seeing that these patients were so grateful for what some in this country might call so little, is inspiring and a true testament to the human spirit. I am honored to have had the opportunity to return to Guatemala. My experiences have challenged me in ways I never thought possible, and molded me into the clinician I am today, now just three months away from graduation.
I reached out to those who took this journey with me, asking one simple question: what is the most important lesson you learned on this mission that you will carry forward with you in your PA career? Their responses speak volumes.
- “The most important lesson that I learned on this mission to carry forward with me is to respect and appreciate what we have here in the United States. Many other countries are not as fortunate as we are or have the resources that we do and yet the population that we worked with there was so appreciative for what little we had to give them. Respect, appreciation, and gratitude. I’ll carry these three things with me for the rest of my practice.”
- Amanda Jackiewicz, University of Bridgeport, Class of 2017
- “Americans take easy access to education and health care for granted, which often comes with a sense of entitlement. To practice medicine is a privilege and the education we receive is invaluable. I hope to always be aware of this reality and take every opportunity to be the best practitioner I can be for my patients.”
- Kristen Mosher, University of Bridgeport, Class of 2018
- “I have learned that patience, empathy, and kind words go a long way when treating patients of each and every culture, race, and religion. The kind and humble people of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala made me truly believe that I can make a difference in a life whether it be simply holding a hand or making a diagnosis.”
- Haley Miller, University of Bridgeport, Class of 2018
- “The importance of foreign language skills. I plan to work with underserved populations, and being proficient in Spanish helped tremendously with patient care and education.”
- Jon Medler, University of Bridgeport, Class of 2018
- “There are many people that are so thankful for the little things that I can do as a PA, such as take a blood pressure, check blood glucose; little things such as these can make a world of a difference for people.”
- Astrid Garza, University of Bridgeport, Class of 2018
No matter what path you choose to take in your PA career, never underestimate your ability to make a difference in the lives of those you serve.
Robin L. Fiftal, PA-S III
University of Bridgeport, Physician Assistant Institute
Class of 2017 – President
Student Academy of AAPA Board of Directors – Northeast Regional Director (2016-2017)