DMU students shine in global health service

Thirty-four DMU students spent their spring break week participating in DMU’s Department of Global Health’s service trips March 10-17, 2018. This year the department offered three service trips – groups of students returned to Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic and Breathitt County, KY, and this year there was also a new service trip to Vieux Fort, St. Lucia.

This is the third year that DMU has partnered with Timmy Global Health for a trip to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. This year, the group was comprised of 20 DMU students, three Drake University pharmacy students, two nurses and five providers, including Rebecca Shaw, M.D., chair of specialty medicine at DMU; Laura Delaney, PA-C, assistant professor in the physician assistant program; and 2011 DMU graduate Kendall Blair, D.O. As in past years, the students assisted with the running of a week-long medical clinic in a rural coastal community near the northwestern border with Haiti. During the week, the clinic saw 347 patients and referred 47 of them. The clinics also featured a public health station, focusing on raising awareness about diabetes and hypertension. 

In addition to learning about health care and the culture of the Dominican Republic, students appreciated the interprofessional opportunities the trip provided. “Seeing how the nurses, providers and pharmacist interacted was one of the best aspects of this experience. Recently I went to an interprofessional event and conference, so this cemented how critical interprofessional collaboration is to providing better patient-centered health care,” explained Vivi Ding-Tse, D.O.’21.

Nine students and Sarah Werning, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy, and Professor Emeritus Gary Hoff, D.O., rode in a van for approximately 11 hours to Breathitt County, KY, a rural Appalachian community, to learn about health care in a different setting. This is the third year for this trip, and, as in previous years, students shadowed health care professionals in primary care, the emergency department, physical therapy, podiatry and home health care. The trip also included a public health project that was an effort to give back to the community. At the request of Juniper Health, a local health care system, the students researched a cyberbullying curriculum and presented their proposal and findings to the Juniper Health staff at the end of the week.

The students who went on the Kentucky trip realized that one doesn’t have to leave the United States to experience a different health care culture and an economically and socially disadvantaged area. As Kellan Etter, D.O.’21, pointed out, “This trip further reinforced the idea that there are people in the United States who need significantly improved levels of help and care as well. The trip to Kentucky provided me with the chance to follow those who have taken it upon themselves to serve one of the poorest, most isolated and underserved regions in the United States.” Etter is interested in pursuing policy or a government position after graduation and hopes he will be able to advocate for programs that provide better health and wellness in Appalachia, after seeing and hearing firsthand the struggles and needs of this population.

The third service trip was to St. Jude Hospital in Vieux Fort, St. Lucia. St. Jude Hospital is an established DMU international rotation site, but this was the first year DMU students went on a service trip to St. Lucia. Five students traveled to St. Lucia with Aneesa Afroze, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, and two of her third-year residents in internal medicine, Lindsey Rearigh, D.O., and Lucas Vocelka, D.O. The group shadowed in various departments of St. Jude Hospital to learn about health care in St. Lucia and provided continuing medical education sessions to the health care community on topics such as HIV and antimicrobial stewardship. 

One of the lessons students learned during this trip was about how to work in a community that lacks resources. Although the students witnessed several cases where this could be a barrier to care, Danielle Gilbert, D.O.’20, noted how it also highlighted the ability of the providers on the island to make the most out of the resources they have. “Instead of ordering countless tests and practicing defensive medicine, like in the U.S., St. Lucian physicians make clinical diagnoses using their history and physical examination skills, and treat with what they have,” she explained.

DMU students on all three trips had the opportunity to learn about health care in a low-resource setting, experience a new culture and participate in an educational component of the trip, with the goal of giving back to the communities.  The students learned a lot from their trips and will utilize this knowledge in their future careers in health care.

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