Medical student reflects on collaborative Hershey and University Park medical service trip
This spring brought the first collaborative spring break service trip for University Park undergraduates and Penn State Hershey medical students and physicians. From March 2 to 9, the team of two physicians, eight medical students, and thirty-two undergraduates served in the Darien province of Panama—an area reputed in the States as a jungle ridden with malaria and yellow fever.
During the week-long trip, the team provided medical services under the auspices of the Global Brigades organization. These services were much needed by the Darien population of 50,000. According to a local physician, Darien has only five medical specialists and three ambulances to cover an area the size of Connecticut. In contrast, Connecticut has more than 17,000 physicians and 60,000 registered nurses.
After months of preparation and twenty-one hours of travel, the team arrived at 5:30 a.m. at their compound in Santa Fe, where they would serve locals in El Tirao, Panama. Despite a mere four hours of sleep, the team persevered through “frigid showers, putrid porti-potties, and unpredictable electricity,” medical student Dan Brill said, to sort medical supplies provided by generous contributions of donors and team participants.
Over the next three days, the team used these supplies to operate a clinic out of a local elementary school. Using the Global Brigades model, they established five stations to provide care to more than 300 Panaminians: Triage, Consultation, Dental, Laboratory, and Pharmacy stations allocated space for checking vital signs, conducting patient interviews and exams, providing oral care, performing diagnostic tests, and dispensing drugs, respectively.
Many patients came for wellness checks, others for teeth extractions, and several just to receive free anti-worm drugs and vitamins. Not all patients were so fortunate, however. Numerous patients presented with medical issues—skin lesions, labor- and nutrition-induced disorders, and genetic abnormalities—that astounded the team.
“Day-to-day, I am absorbed in the daily medical school rigors and tend to forget why I entered medicine: to apply my medical knowledge and skills to help others.” Brill said, passionate about contributing to this philanthropic effort. From performing a routine physical exam, teaching undergraduates how to collect vital signs, to empathizing with the locals, Brill attested to the satisfaction he derived from his work on the trip.
“Ultimately, this medical service trip,” Brill said, “has reinvigorated my passion for medicine and motivated me to seek out other medical service opportunities. I encourage you to aid similar endeavors with any means you possess.”