UA medical students to travel to Dominican Republic for medical mission trip

Tanner Jugler is one of the students traveling on the medical mission trip over winter break. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

Eight students from the University of Arizona College of Medicine’s Phoenix campus will travel to the Dominican Republic over winter break on a medical mission trip.

The students organizing the trip are members of International Health Organization—Phoenix, a student club that provides information about international medicine and opportunities to gain experience. This is the third trip IHOP has taken to the Dominican Republic.

The group will bring about $2,500 worth of medicine for about 400 patients in free medical clinics in rural labor towns called bateyes during the five-day trip.

The students will obtain medical histories from the patients and perform physical exams. They will then distribute medication based on what the patients’ conditions require, along with multivitamins.

Although the students see a variety of different illnesses in the clinics, there are some that are more common than others. The medications brought along on the trip reflect these needs.

“The primary source of income for people who live in the bateyes is harvesting sugar cane, so many of the people suffer from chronic back pain,” IHOP President Ali Raza said.

Other common ailments include hypertension, arthritis, malnourishment and dehydration. In addition to medication, the students provide information for the patients on how to stay healthy and avoid specific illnesses.

The medicine is purchased through Medical Mercy, a non-government organization run by David Beyda, director of the College of Medicine’s global health program. Beyda has experience with medical mission trips; he accompanied the students who went on the first trip one year ago.

Any medication that is not given out during the five days of clinic work will be turned over to the nuns that transport the students to the bateyes, Raza said. These nuns also provide food and shelter for the students while they are in the Dominican Republic.

The students stay in an orphanage run by Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, an organization with several homes for children across Latin America. A working partnership with NPH allows the students to set up the free clinic each day.

“We got to eat dinner with the children every night and go to the beach with the special needs children. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip,” Raza said.

For many of the students, the cultural experiences are just as rewarding as the opportunity to practice their medical skills.

“The medical aspect is great, but a definite highlight was meeting people from different situations and backgrounds, getting to understand their values and what’s important to them,” Raza said.

Raza went on the first IHOP trip to the Dominican Republic one year ago, while another student, Rachel Nicholson, went on the second trip, which took place in summer 2012. Nicholson cited the problem-solving process as an aspect of the trip she really enjoyed.

“We can see our limitations as students and we have to strive to overcome those barriers. Even though our primary focus is helping, there’s a lot of personal growth going on, as well,” Nicholson said.

The students gain a lot of insight from the trip, ranging from ethical experience to building their clinical skills. The direct experience often includes more than just medical practice.

“I felt like I was making a difference just sitting there listening to them talk about their problems. The patients we saw weren’t just in need of medical help, they wanted someone to talk to, too,” Nicholson said.

Raza and Nicholson are both second-year students at the College of Medicine’s Phoenix campus. The upcoming trip will have two second-year students, six first-years and three faculty members.

Although their impact in the country is limited, the students going on the trip are hopeful and excited for the experiences they will have.

Second-year student Steve Vanhoy said he sees the trip as an “altruistic thing.” He, like Raza, is looking forward to seeing a new culture and how other people live.

“It’s difficult to come back here and see how much we have. People here expect a lot of things, whereas there they’re grateful for everything,” Vanhoy said.

Tanner Jugler, the other second-year student going on the trip, has been on mission trips before, but not with a strictly medical purpose.

“I can’t wait to get there and be able to make a difference in people’s lives. This trip is a reinforcement of my interest in helping underserved populations, especially overseas,” Jugler said.

The students will be accompanied by three staff members: Dawn Barcellona, Gordon Davis and John Mattox. Although the staff will supervise the students’ contact with the patients they see, their actual involvement is very minimal.

“The students are completely in charge. Our role is just to observe them. The structure of the trip allows the students to do everything,” Davis said.

Davis and Beyda, who have both gone on the Dominican Republic trip in the past, have specific memories of the students and their experiences working in the clinic.

Beyda noted that the humility of not being able to offer more than their presence alarmed some of the students at first, but they quickly grew to see how just being there still benefited their patients.

“My most memorable experience was to watch a student realize that holding a stethoscope and a patient’s hand was the epitome of being a physician,” Beyda said.

Contact the reporter at kimberly.koerth@asu.edu

Correction: Dec. 4, 2012

A previous version of this article said in the photo caption that Tanner Jugler is traveling on the medical trip for a second time. This is Jugler’s first trip with the group.