'Students Without Borders' Travel to the Dominican Republic
By Kristen DeAngeli
In the dark early hours of a snowy Saturday morning in Buffalo, our group of 34 students, seven practitioners, and one dentist were finally all checked in for the 6 a.m. flight to Atlanta. The excitement was palpable as our group milled about the gate area. We were all mentally preparing to travel to a small town called "Punta de Garza” in the province of San Pedro d’Macoris-- about 45 minutes east of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
There, we planned to set up a free medical clinic to provide care to this underserved community. After almost one full year of fundraising, organizing, and planning this trip, the time had finally arrived. Now, as the final boarding announcements were made, we prepared to embark on what would turn out to be the experience of a lifetime.
Sunday morning, our vans arrived in the small town of Punta de Garza, where we were met with gratitude by the local people. We worked fast to set up our clinic in a one-room stucco church nestled in a pseudo-urban setting, which had been cleared out as a space for us to work in during the week. The church had informed the local community that the clinic would be open during the next week for anyone in need of medical care.
Patient rooms were separated by makeshift curtains crafted out of bed sheets and hung by clotheslines. Local children peered into the windows and watched curiously as students and practitioners hurried about, grouping medicines and vitamins and setting them up on shelves in our small pharmacy area. Boxes of shoes and shirts were set out below a shelf full of toiletries, eyeglasses, and toothpaste for our patients to take home with them. Each patient room was equipped with only the bare essentials: a few plastic chairs and some gloves, antibacterial gel, and tongue depressors. We were now ready to attempt to meet the medical needs of this community.
The next day, the clinic was up and running. People lined up along the outside of the church, waiting in line to enter the gate. The first point of contact for the patients was triage, where a student would take each patient’s information, chief complaint, blood pressure, and heart rate, and then classify them as either a medical or dental complaint. From there, the patients would have a seat on the benches lining the wall and wait patiently for their number to be called. From the moment the clinic opened at 7:50 in the morning until we closed at 5 p.m., the benches were always full of men, women, and children of all ages.
Once their number was called, two or three PA students would attend to the patient with the help of a translator. After taking a history and performing a physical on each patient, the students would present the patient case to a practitioner, who would discuss with them a specific treatment plan. The students would then return to the patient, discuss and dispense any necessary medications, and provide the patient with anything else they needed, such as toiletries, vitamins, and clothing items.
For those of us who did not speak fluent Spanish, the language barrier proved to be a challenge, especially when a translator was not readily available. Even with a translator, this extra step in the process made each patient interaction longer and a bit more tedious than an average walk-in-clinic encounter. However, every student and practitioner made sure the care we provided to each patient was to the very best of our abilities.
Throughout the week, the vans departing from the clinic back to the hotel were abuzz with patient stories from throughout the day. We encountered common ailments such as allergies, fatigue, parasites, and flu-like symptoms. We treated patients with dermatology complaints such as irritant contact dermatitis and warts. We performed heart, lung, abdominal, eye, ear-nose-throat, neurologic, and pelvic exams. We saw and treated many children throughout the week, who came to us with ear infections, fungal infections of the scalp, and tapeworm. All of our patients seemed very grateful for our care, and many of them shared their praises with us.
All in all, we saw a total of 335 patients in the five days we were open. As Friday drew to a close, we began to pack up the clinic and prepare to leave. As we piled into our vans, a crowd of children gathered around us, curiously peering into the windows and vying for our attention - an unusual yet unforgettable sendoff. As the kids and the clinic disappeared in the rearview mirror, we were left with a sense of awe at all that we had seen and accomplished.
The long journey back to the States gave us all time to reflect on the week and realize some things about our culture and ourselves that we hadn’t previously recognized. While this experience pointed out some major cultural differences from the U.S., such as access to clean water and the availability of health care, it also revealed the subtleties: the differences in food, values, and the ways in which people experience life. The simple things became more important: music, family, faith, and camaraderie among both friends and acquaintances. It is the core of humanity that is realized when you take away the basic comforts of home, such as language, familiarity, and availability. Now, as the Buffalo runway approaches underfoot, we know that we will never be the same, nor feel the same about the world we all share.
SWOB Dominican Republic Trip January 2011
About our organization:
Students Without Borders (SWOB) is a nonprofit student-run organization based at Daemen College in Amherst, NY. SWOB is composed of Physician Assistant students in the graduate phase of the Daemen PA program. The club was founded in 2001 when a few PA students launched the first mission to the Dominican Republic. One of the club’s original members, Raphael Genao, has worked to coordinate and run the trip every year since its inception. Now based out of Boston, he continues to work diligently as SWOB’s guiding light on their international mission, traveling with the group each year to serve as an ambassador, to organize the clinic, and to translate when needed. It is because of Raphael’s extraordinary dedication and diligence that the mission continues to be a success year after year.
Until this year, the group had set up the clinic in nearby Progreso Dos, Dominican Republic. Due to SWOB’s continual efforts, that village now has a permanent doctor based out of the former clinic. This year, Raphael found greater need in the community of Punta de Garza.
During this past year, our group raised around $9,000 in order to fund this year’s trip by collecting donations, selling candy bars, and setting up fundraisers both on campus and with local businesses, such as Friendly’s restaurant. Each student also contributed around $1,000 out of pocket to eat, sleep, and travel to and from the Dominican Republic. SWOB will soon have fundraising efforts underway in preparation for next year’s trip.
To make a donation to Students without Borders, please contact Lindsay Guzzetta: by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.