Learning the 'unteachable': KGI PPC students help set up a temporary medical/dental clinic in rural Honduras
Students in KGI's postbac premedical certificate (PPC) program recently joined premed students from Johns Hopkins University and UC Berkley on a volunteer trip aimed at improving healthcare in rural Honduras. The 10-day trip to the village of Mercedes Chirina was organized under the umbrella of Global Medical Brigades-the world's largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization.
The KGI cohort was organized by two recent graduates from the PPC program, Nancy Garcia and Harshal Lal. KGI PPC Faculty Director Dr. Ian Phillips and his wife, Dr. Blanca Aguiar, a pediatrician, accompanied the students on the trip. Also joining the group was Sue Waits, a physician assistant, Dr. Erin Watts, a dentist, and Dr. Kevin Burns, a dentist and father of student-volunteer Andrew Burns, PPC'14.
Dr. Phillips said the trip showed the students how difficult people's lives can be in an underdeveloped country, particularly in regard to health care. "When people have no electricity in their homes or access to clean water, practicing medicine and dentistry can seem close to impossible. But the team was prepared," Dr. Phillips said, adding that for months beforehand the students raised funds and gathered free drug samples to provide the best medical care.
The group spent their first day in Honduras visiting a Global Brigade microfinance project and a local orphanage. After that, every day was spent in Chirina. Getting there from the capitol city Tegucigalpa, where the group was lodged, wasn't easy-particularly with a truckload of medical supplies.
"The daily trip was a two-hour bus ride over bumpy and dusty roads through the mountains," Dr. Phillips said. "It had its perils: stray dogs, horses, cows, and mules all ambling along the road."
Once in Chirina, the team converted a school house into a temporary clinic. They set up a room for dental surgery, a doctors' office, a cytology room for pap smears, a triage room for diagnostics, and a pharmacy. At the end of each day the mobile clinic had to be disassembled and repacked on the trucks-nothing was left overnight. The students rotated through the different rooms and recorded each patient's information in a computer program.
The healthcare professionals in the group not only diagnosed and treated patients, they also taught the students as they went-sharing insights gained from years of experience. "I think the students learned from them what is 'unteachable' in theory: empathy for patients and passion for medicine," Dr. Phillips said. "Blanca (Dr. Aguiar) discovered a heart murmur in a baby that had not been diagnosed before and also helped a 14-year-old girl who said she could not afford to go to school. The girl said she was 'cursed' because her mother had died of AIDs and was worried she had it, too. Blanca got the head organizer of the Medical Brigade to promise to get her to an AIDS clinic."
The trip was definitely a learning opportunity for student organizer Harshal Lal, who hopes to one day work with an international aid organization like Doctors Without Borders. "This experience was unforgettable," Lal said. "It encapsulates all the reasons I want to be a doctor. Everyone deserves (medical) care."