Physician Assistant and Nursing Students Volunteer in Peru

By Mirofora Paradis, MSPAS, PA-C

After months of meticulous preparation, Physician Assistant (PA) students Nicholas Tuttle, Juliana Garofalo, Shelbylayn Montilla, Jessica Maddela, Ayana Jacob, Conrad Poole, and Yashveen Rai, along with their professor, Mirofora Paridis, embarked on a transformative journey to Cusco, Peru. The Physician Assistant MS students collaborated closely with Nursing students and volunteers from A Broader View, a non-profit organization that organizes volunteer trips. Together, they orchestrated fundraising efforts and planned health workshops tailored to the needs of three distinct sites in Cusco, Peru: an orphanage, a rural community, and a school for individuals with special needs.

Nursing faculty member Dr. Stephanie Wilborne was accompanied on the trip by Nursing students Brya White, Suzann Saquicela, Maciel Ortiz, and Vianny Guzman. This collaboration underscored the vital synergy between healthcare team members in the field, amplifying the impact of health education and outreach. The team traveled to Peru hoping to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those they would encounter.

This initiative was supported by a generous grant from the nccPA Health Foundation in support of the group’s dental hygiene endeavors. With this backing, the UB team acquired educational models to enhance their dental hygiene workshops, assembling 500 dental hygiene kits — 400 for adults and 100 for pediatric use — to help sustain the community’s oral health for an entire year. Guidance by faculty and students from University of Bridgeport’s Fones School of Dental Hygiene enriched the workshop creation process and facilitated kit assembly, highlighting the collaborative spirit driving this initiative.

“The global health and outreach trip to Peru was an incredible experience that allowed us to make a lasting impact on Peruvian communities with workshops on important topics such as dental hygiene, sexual health, and life-saving measures, including CPR. The gratitude of the Peruvian people was humbling, and their eagerness to learn was inspiring. Professor Paridis ensured we were making a sustainable impact and had safe and enjoyable experiences at places like Machu Picchu! I strongly recommend that students participate in this life-changing opportunity to help others and grow as individuals and future PAs.” – Juliana Garofalo, Pa-C, ‘24

Read on for a first-hand account of the trip and its impact on UB students.

Day 1

We arrived in Cusco, a city rich in history and culture. On our first day, we immersed ourselves in the vibrant streets, starting with a guided tour of San Blas and the Plaza de Armas. After exploring the city, we gathered in the main square for a meal, energizing ourselves for the days ahead. Back at our accommodations, the students diligently organized donations and finalized plans for the health workshops scheduled for the week.

Day 2

Our hearts were filled with anticipation as we embarked on our first day of outreach work. We ventured to Hogar de Menores Maria Salome, an orphanage, where approximately 50 girls and boys greeted us with open arms. The students took the lead, conducting dental hygiene workshops and engaging in discussions about nutrition and sex education with the adolescent residents. We spent the afternoon playing games like volleyball and basketball with the children.

Day 3

Today, we journeyed to the rural village of Kallarayan, where we were warmly welcomed with a traditional festival. Amidst poetry recitations and lively dances, we were invited to join the celebration, embracing the local culture. Our team split into groups to deliver age-appropriate health workshops to the residents, providing dental hygiene kits and other essential donations. The spirit of camaraderie and gratitude filled the air as we exchanged smiles and stories with the resilient community.

Day 4

At Colegio San Martin, a school for children with special needs, we were humbled by the resilience and spirit of the students and staff. Our workshops focused on dental hygiene in the community, and we were met with enthusiasm. The students were eager to learn and demonstrate their newfound knowledge. As we shared laughter and moments of connection, we were reminded of the power of education to transcend barriers and foster understanding.

Day 5

Returning to Colegio San Martin, we expanded our outreach efforts to include the school staff and parents. Through demonstrations and interactive sessions, we emphasized the importance of nutrition and taught essential life-saving skills such as abdominal thrust for choking and CPR. The exchange of knowledge and experiences enriched our lives and those of the individuals we had the privilege to serve.

Day 6:

Before dawn broke, we embarked on a journey to witness one of the Wonders of the World — Machu Picchu. We traveled by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, followed by a bus ride up the winding roads, and arrived at the breathtaking site. We were reminded of the enduring legacy of human ingenuity and perseverance as we marveled at the ancient ruins and listened to tales of its storied past. Our hearts overflowed with gratitude for the experiences shared and the memories created on this unforgettable adventure in Peru.

Real-world experiences that make a difference

Experiential learning and collaboration provide invaluable benefits for University of Bridgeport students, enhancing their clinical skills and cultural competence. Participating in this medical outreach trip to Peru gave these students hands-on experience in diverse healthcare settings, fostering teamwork, adaptability, and a deeper understanding of global health issues.

Here what the students had to say about this experience:

“An awesome experience. A trip like this gives you a new way of looking at the world. It broadens your perspective, makes you grateful for what you have, and makes you realize you need less than you think. What struck me most was the similarity between us and the Peruvians. We may have many differing norms and beliefs, but we ultimately have more in common than not. We all have similar motives. And we are all just trying to live our lives.” – Nick Tuttle, Pa-C ‘24