Dan Kraeger, D.O.’87, speaks with passion about global health service. But when he was invited to go on his first service trip in 2005, to Bolivia, South America, he didn’t want to go.
“How much can I do in a week? How much can I really change?” he asked himself. “I had those concerns. I talked to missionaries and asked that question. They said, ‘You wouldn’t believe it.”
Kraeger now believes: Since that first trip, he’s participated in trips to Lima, Peru; Alajuela, Costa Rica; Sumpango, Guatemala; and most recently Cartagena, Colombia. He and his fellow physicians, medical and pre-med students, often accompanied by members of his church, treat patients and work with local physicians, residents and churches to sustain their impact.
“When you go to a location for the first time, they don’t know if you’re a one time deal,” says Kraeger, director of Point Sports Medicine Center in Stevens Point,WI. “That’s why we are not just trying to do things for those we serve on medical mission trips, but rather come alongside them and help them to take ownership in what we are doing in the community.”
For example, at the clinic his group established with a church near Sumpango, local volunteers installed televisions in the waiting areas so patients could watch videos, in Spanish, on topics including general hygiene, safe food preparation and nutrition.
“That was totally their idea,” Kraeger says. “I am happy to say that after three years in Sumpango and four years in Lima, those two churches and communities are shining examples of people being empowered to make their communities and the world a better place.”
Education is an important component of his global health work, too, especially given the lifestyles of people in poor countries like Guatemala. Kraeger and his colleagues strive to teach people about exercise and balance as well as provide patient care.
“In Guatemala, many women do laundry as a career, all by hand. They carry all that wet laundry in baskets on their heads,” he says. “All the fieldwork is done with hoes. I grew up on a farm and we hoed our garden, but not a field on a mountainside to earn a dollar a day.”
Team members also educate the medical students and premedical undergraduates who accompany them. The group that went to Guatemala in 2009 included Michael Braunsky and Sara O’Meara, then students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where Kraeger regularly talks with the pre-medicine club; both are now osteopathic medicine students at DMU.
“I watched and learned how a caring and empathetic doctor works with patients,” Braunsky says of working with Kraeger. “The trip reaffirmed everything that I had always thought about the desire to be a physician. Although the clinic was rudimentary, the Guatemalans could not have been happier to receive care. Even the patient with severe hepatitis, as yellow as my T-shirt, who was told that her only chance at minute hope was to get to a hospital, left with gratitude for us coming to see her.”
O’Meara echoes those perspectives. “We went to help them, but they taught us so much – to be grateful, to realize we can make an impact and how sacrificing just a little bit of your time can make a difference,” she says. She planned to join DMU’s first service trip to Honduras this March. “After I came back from Guatemala, I made a promise to myself that Iwould make medical missions a large part of my career and life as a physician.”
Instilling the “art of compassion and service” in students is important to Kraeger.
“Global health is transformational. It puts into perspective why you got into medicine in the first place,” he says. “Visiting families who live in 12-foot by 12-foot homes made of woven cornstalks, dirt floors and tin roofs certainly changes one’s perspectives of how blessed we truly are.”