Some of the unique opportunities available at Des Moines University are international rotations and medical mission trips.
In July 2007, I traveled to the Stann Creek District of Belize, Central America as part of a group of 21 students and clinicians. The trip served as an excellent opportunity to provide remote underserved populations with medical healthcare and education.
Our trip goals were to:
— Expose fist and second year medical students to rural clinical experiences
— Enhance understanding of cultural, economical, and social influences of healthcare
— Provide medical care to the people of Belize
— Instill a passion for international medicine and global health
In the Stann Creek District, about 47% of the population is below poverty level. We were based in Dangriga – the fifth largest city in Belize with the second highest crime rate. 20% of infants are born to mothers under age 18. 14% of the district is HIV+, which is the highest rate in Central America. Despite the new national healthcare system being implemented in Belize, there still remains a significant need for healthcare missions.
We departed July 7. After arriving in Dangriga, we sorted medications and prepared supplies for the daily outreach clinics. The majority of people in Belize cannot afford basic over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, decongestants and topical creams. Antibiotics are also limited and were included among the medications and supplies we brought.
Each morning at 6:30 a.m., we split into three clinical teams and traveled from Dangriga to the remote areas of Stann Creek. Our location sites were Bella Vista, Red Bank and Georgetown – each an hour and a half drive away. Upon arrival, 20-30 patients would already be lined up at the door eager to receive help. Some of the patients traveled up to 30 miles to be seen in our clinic!
In general, the medical students would take patient histories and perform physical exams. Most of the pathology was gastrointestinal or dermatologic; however, some of the cases included advanced stages of chronic illnesses, parasitic infections, cancers, congenital anomalies, neurological deficits and traumatic injuries. Additionally, opthalmic exams were performed on many of the patients with the assistance of Dr. Tribble, our team ophthalmologist. With less than one percent of Belizean women regularly receiving pap smears, our team was part of a government pilot program to provide pap smears and women’s health screenings.
In our week-long medical mission, more than 1400 Belizeans received medical care. As a student, I was able to further develop physical diagnosis skills as well as work side-by-side with clinicians in treating both simple and complex medical disorders.
This trip enhanced my understanding of international medicine as well as reinforced my desire to serve disadvantaged populations. With the help of many supporters and undying compassion to care for people in need, the Belize trip was an amazing success.
The 2008 Des Moines University trip will be to El Salvador, Central America. As the Global Health Department continues to expand its overseas sites, students will be able to participate in more unique opportunities across the globe.
D.O. Class of 2010