Eleven students from the University of Bridgeport Physician Assistant Institute (PAI) have recently returned from their yearly trip to Guatemala, where they provided medical outreach to underserved areas. This was the fourth consecutive year for this highly anticipated trip that serves two main purposes: providing medical care to patients who lack the funds or material to be assessed and educating and training students who aspire to be physician assistants by providing them with hands-on experience.
“Part of my goal for the students was to have them grow as future providers who see more than the medical diagnosis,” said Dr. Monica Lockwood, an experienced physician and one of the PAI faculty who accompanied the students to Guatemala.
With only one week in Guatemala, the time for learning, training, and providing care was limited and PA students had to work as fast as they could to efficiently screen as many patients as possible. PA student Chayse Hellthaler noted that “Up to 100 patients in Guatemala would wait for hours just to have their blood pressure and glucose screened,” Lockwood was pleased to observe that the students learned that medicine wasn’t the only path leading to a patient’s solution. She wanted them to understand that the patients themselves can play a hand in their own healthcare and that by educating them on how to properly take care of themselves at home, a great deal of their problems could be addressed. She said, “The students were learning that proper communication with the patient could be life changing.”
Being that the trip was in an underserved area, local clinics not only lacked the materials needed to treat patients, but a great number of people in the area couldn’t afford to be seen by a doctor. Noticing this issue, the PAI partnered with a local laboratory that provided discounted prices to the patients. The PAI program hopes that this partnership will continue in the coming years. Lockwood expressed that for those who can’t afford the laboratory prices, a voucher may be provided next year to help them. Even with effectively finding a solution to the financial issues that arose, there was still the problem of not having enough materials to treat patients.
In the past, in order to solve this problem, PA students would host fundraisers before the trip to raise money that would go toward buying medical supplies. This year, the majority of the supplies were “obtained by word of mouth,” Lockwood said. Along with donations that were received, the organization in Guatemala provided the students with a wish list to request supplies that were needed. According to Lockwood, the items that were donated included “blood pressure cuffs, new and used stethoscopes, glucometers with hundreds of reagent strips, along with many OTC medications, microscope slides, and a variety of first aid supplies.”
Since its start in 2014, Lockwood said that their visits have been very well received by the people of Guatemala. “Each day we were welcomed by many patients and clinic workers eager to see what we brought and what we had to say. They were grateful that we were helping alongside the medical staff there,” Lockwood said. She also stated that the clinic staff in Guatemala were extremely helpful and more than happy to help provide further training and education to the PA students when they needed it.
At seeing how eager and grateful the locals were to receive much needed healthcare, Hellthaler believed that she definitely gained a great deal of cultural competence. She said that “Seeing how different medicine is in Guatemala will stick with me forever.” It was the hope of Lockwood that the students would see the benefits and limitations that come with short-term experiences. She states that the goal “is to build a relationship that you continue to strengthen with each new visit.”