Spring Breakthroughs

From Des Moines to the Dominican Republic  and Biloxi, Mississippi, global health students rekindle their commitment to medicine

At two new-for-DMU sites for global health service during spring break this year, students and clinicians treated hundreds of patients, provided health education and even swept floors and cleaned up facilities. The biggest impact of the trips, however, was on the students themselves.

The University’s global health program deployed two groups to do good works during spring break in March: Twenty-three students in DMU’s osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine and physician assistant programs joined eight health care providers — including several DMU alumni — and two Drake University pharmacy students to serve in the Dominican Republic in collaboration with the nonprofit organization, Timmy Global Health. Meanwhile, 10 osteopathic and podiatric medical students provided health education and evaluated health needs under the supervision of Thomas Benzoni, D.O.’83, AOBEM, FACEP, a longtime physician and assistant professor of family medicine.

A DMU student and alum visit with a Dominican coupleThe Biloxi trip — experienced nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast — was the global health program’s first stateside venture, but likely not its last. It was inspired by Dixon Xu, D.P.M.’17, who participated in DMU’s service trip in Honduras last year.

“Anyone with a passion for improving health care can benefit from these service experiences, and you don’t have to go abroad to do global health,” he says. “There are a lot of things we can do within our own borders.”

A DMU student chats with Dominican women outside the clinic.The two groups’ experiences — from the patient conditions they saw to the culture around them — were literally and figuratively half a world apart. Their takeaways, however, were similar, with a singular theme: the long-term impact of global health service, at home and abroad, is on the students themselves.

“While we knew that we had made a difference, all of us felt the helplessness of knowing we still had to leave the people that we’d come to love without a constant medical presence,” says Marshall Sheide, D.O.’18, the first-year liaison for the Dominican Republic group. “We concluded that we will have to be proactive in the future and promote global health.”

What students are motivated to do in the future as a result of their global health experiences is the ultimate payoff. “This trip has taught me to look in my own community back home for opportunities to help in free clinics,” said Biloxi trip participant and first-year liaison James Renier, D.O.’18. “I look forward to the day where I, too, can dedicate my time [volunteering] each week as a physician.”

Big Lessons: Students describe other big lessons learned in post-trip reflections


Flexibility • Providing good care with few resources

“What I found most rewarding was being able to use OMM to give these incredibly hard-working, resilient, spirited patients relief from the constant wear and tear of the demanding physical labor required of them in the banana plantations…To be able to use my hands to help them achieve relief has left an everlasting impact on me.”
Rachel Erickson, D.O.’17, Dominican Republic

“We proceeded to carry out what might seem like meaningless tasks: sweeping, cleaning lights, sorting medications and throwing expired materials. It was amazing to see how such small tasks meant so much to the free clinic workers…Tuesday, news had spread to another free clinic, Bethesda Clinic, which opened their doors to us due to the work we had done at the Bethel Clinic.”
James Renier, D.O.’18, Biloxi

“The physicians that we worked with had almost a negligible fraction of the resources that they would have available if they were practicing in America. However, we were still able to deliver care to more than 600 patients purely through the basics — asking the right questions, using our inspection/percussion/palpation/manipulation skills, etc.”
Iaswarya “Ice” Ganapathiraju, D.O.’18, Dominican Republic

“Learning to practice with limited resources allowed us to focus on patient-centered care and thinking outside of the box.”
Kara Brock, D.P.M.’17, Dominican Republic


Learning that all acts of service make positive differences big and small

“With uncertainty, we were challenged to be flexible, and with service, we became humble…Service is cleaning the light fixtures of a free clinic because the elderly volunteers have never been able to do it on their own; it is holding a patient’s hand as her teeth were pulled with minimal anesthetics and blood and tears dripping down her face…I did not move mountains or change a person’s life while in the deep swamplands of Mississippi, but I was there. I was there working toward a greater good and was willing to help out in any way I could and, for me, that is enough.”
Kalani Parker, D.P.M.’17, Biloxi

“We showed up to the clinic every day around 8 a.m. and upon our arrival there was always a large amount of people eager to see the physicians and us students. These people would sit outside and peacefully wait for HOURS without one complaint or one concern. We often take the things we are given by living in the U.S. for granted.”
Paul Guzik, D.O.’18, Dominican Republic

“It was amazing to see how these clinics could do so much with the little they had…One of the wonderful pieces that I found was the unique ability for the physician to actually spend the appropriate amount of time with the patient. We were actually able to sit and listen to the patient and listen to their stories. What a joy!”
James Renier, D.O.’18, Biloxi

“My most important takeaway from our brief six days in Monte Cristi was the regeneration of appreciation for the simple chance of becoming a physician…We each have the chance not just to memorize lists of antibiotics or appropriate interventions for various presentations but to alter the very lives of strangers from the most distant corners of the world. This is both our luxury and obligation. Leaving Monte Cristi I had but a solitary thought resonating in my head: ‘we get to become physicians.’”
Dimitri Boreisha, D.O.’18, Dominican Republic


Importance of listening to, gaining the trust of and showing respect for patients and other health care professionals

“After proudly prescribing ailments for the [79-year-old] man’s complaints of ‘ants crawling on my skin,’ I was ready to send the patient to the next station, but was stopped by Dr. [Paul] Milloy, who took the time to tell the man what great health he was in for his age…I recognized how important it is to take those few extra minutes and give positive reinforcement to your patients regardless of how chaotic the clinic environment may be.”
Julia Peterson, D.O.’18, Dominican Republic

“Like Dr. [Thomas] Benzoni has said, there is a story behind every patient. Developing a long-term relationship with your patients may be the cure to our failing health care system…The ability to understand your patient’s background, the willingness to reach out to offer help and listen to their complaints, being more culturally competent, all go a long way to make me a better physician.”
Dixon Xu, D.P.M.’17, Biloxi

“It was after [a] house call that I continued to recognize the importance of family to the Dominican people…International medical service trips afford a wealth of opportunities to help those in need and learn about medical practice, but it’s these opportunities to learn about humanism that can really make an impact on who we are as people.”
Matthew Mueller, D.O.’17, Dominican Republic

“Before the trip, I thought that I was going to a community where people are in need of help and support, but when I left Biloxi, I realized how strong these people are. [Hurricane] Katrina destroyed their houses, businesses and even families. However, it was not strong enough to break their spirit!”
Lina Todorova, D.O.’18, Biloxi


Reminder why they decided to pursue medicine in the first place • Commitment to future volunteerism

“As medical students, too much of our humanity is put on hold as we try to learn about diseases in the small confined rooms of the library or study hall. It is only when we are confronted with the wonderful people who are suffering from difficult circumstances that we can develop the empathy and drive that are essential for a developing physician.”
Marshall Sheide, D.O.’18, Dominican Republic

“The light of hope in the eyes of a patient was an inspiration for my own personal and continual effort of service learning. Even making bracelets out of rubber bands, giving them to the children and seeing their faces light up – that was a beautiful thing. Seeing the patients expressing gratitude to [DMU alumnus] Dr. Tom Luft was a great moment, too.”
Erica Truong, Drake pharmacy student, Dominican Republic

“I felt that if I could achieve becoming a doctor in the U.S., then someday I would go back to Africa and build a hospital to start helping people medically. This trip made me realize that I don’t have to build a hospital first before I start helping people medically; I can spend short periods of time working with established medical missionaries in the here and now…Why put off till tomorrow what I can do today?”
Sampson Boham, D.O.’18, Dominican Republic

Students gained numerous lessons in global health service this spring. Read additional reflections and view more photos at www.dmu.edu/breakthroughs.

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