Many lessons learned during DMU spring break service trips

DMU students learn about rural medicine, the ethics of global health volunteering and
the value of interprofessional education during spring break service trips

Thirty DMU students spent their spring break week, March 16-23, 2019, participating in the Department of Global Health’s spring break service trips. This year, groups of students returned to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, and Breathitt County, Kentucky.

Dr. Judith Lasker

All students selected to go on these service trips were required to enroll in an elective course with the Department of Global Health. The course met a total of five times, four times before the trips and once afterwards. As part of the course, the department hosted Judith Lasker, Ph.D., professor emerita at Lehigh University, who gave a talk to the DMU campus community on responsible volunteering in global health. She also met in a smaller group with the students going on the service trips and discussed the dangers of “voluntourism” and the importance of partnering with a reliable organization, among other topics. 

After listening to Dr. Lasker’s talk, Ellesavette Kokkinos, M.S.B.S.’23, reflected on important factors to consider when planning or participating in a short-term service trip. 

“Educating yourself on what trip agency you are going with, making sure you are clear the reason you are going on the trip, being honest with what skills you actually have and making sure you are contributing to a sustainable future for the community you are working in,” Kokkinos said were her takeaways on the topic.

For the fifth year, DMU partnered with Timmy Global Health for a trip to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. One of the reasons DMU continues to partner with Timmy Global Health is due to its commitment to continuity of patient care and its established referral systems with in-country health partners to provide services beyond their primary care clinics1

Students and providers in the Dominican Republic

This year’s group was comprised of 20 DMU students, three Drake University pharmacy students, one nurse and seven providers, including Paul Volker, M.D., assistant professor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, and DMU alumni Mary Malcom, D.O.’02, Brianna Jewell, D.O.’12, and Rebecca Kriha, PA-C’16.  The group assisted with running a week-long medical clinic in rural coastal communities near the northwestern border with Haiti. Each of the five weekdays, the group set up the clinic in a different “batey,” or rural community. During the week, the group saw 518 patients and referred 39 of them. The clinics also featured a public health station that was focused on raising awareness about sexual health and women’s health.

Sara Strandlund, D.O.’21, went on the trip to the Dominican Republic last year and returned this year as a trip leader. She reflected on the value of the interprofessional nature of the trip. 

“By working in different areas of clinic, we got to better understand each role that specialty plays in delivering patient care. This included pharmacy, vitals/nursing, physician/PA and public health,” she says. “I remember feeling that way last year as well and having a whole new appreciation for what pharmacy students, public health students and nursing students do. What was different this year was seeing the other trip participants have that realization and get excited about getting to know other areas of medicine.”

Students and faculty in Kentucky

Ten DMU students and Sarah Werning, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy, and Simon Geletta, Ph.D., professor of public health, went to Breathitt, Lee and Wolfe counties in rural Appalachian Kentucky. This was the fourth year that DMU students have spent their spring break in this region. As in past years, students shadowed health professionals in primary care and on home health visits. The trip also included a public health project that the students worked on throughout the week. Juniper Health, a local health care system, requested that the project be on Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) and vaping, two issues local health care professionals are seeing in their community. At the end of the week, the students presented their findings on these two topics to Juniper Health employees. Their goal is to use this information to address the issues.

Davis Chambers, D.O.’22, went on the Kentucky trip to learn about the challenges and opportunities for people in Appalachia and, as expected, he learned about the “economic realities, health care disparities and community ties in this overlooked corner of America.” One thing that surprised Chambers after the trip was “how strongly the practice of rural medicine attracted me. I had not envisioned myself as a rural medicine physician, but after seeing the depth of connection with patients and breadth of their practice, I will strongly consider this moving forward.”

1“Our Global Work,” Timmy Global Health, timmyglobalhealth.org/.

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Sondra Schreiber

Director of Global Health

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