Most PA students look forward to spring break with the kind of joy that is normally reserved for 5-year-olds on Christmas Eve. The coveted week off finally gives students time to sleep in, see all the friends they haven’t talked to in months, catch up on an entire season of “House of Cards” and maybe even read something other than a textbook.
Five students from the Medical University of South Carolina PA program chose to spend their spring break in a very different way. These students, along with two medical students, three physical therapists and four physicians made the (very) long trip to Masindi, Uganda, with Palmetto Medical Initiatives (PMI) to volunteer their time in this medically underserved area. Masindi does have a medical clinic, previously established by the PMI team, so the group of students and clinicians spent each day traveling to a remote site anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes away. The clinical team worked in these mobile clinics from about 8:30 a.m. until about 6 p.m. each day, seeing between 100 and 250 patients a day.
For communication, the team relied on local interpreters, who were also in line as patients themselves. These interpreters would often work all day translating for other patients only to be evaluated at the very end of the day themselves. The PA students were struck by the gratitude expressed by patients seen in the clinic, who were profoundly thankful despite the limited resources the teams were able to bring with them on the trip. Most of the medical supplies and equipment, including glasses, shoes, walkers and medications were brought from the U.S. and carried by team members to Masindi.
Likewise, the student volunteers were grateful for the experience they received, starting off the week taking histories and doing physical exams and ending the week by coming up with treatment plans and interventions. Lauren Croskey, class of 2016, said of the experience: “You give so much but you receive way more than you could ever give.” She said that she will continue to travel on medical mission trips in the future because it is “important to see how other people in the world live. To really understand and learn from people in other countries, we have to see it for ourselves.”
Her advice for PAs and PA students considering a medical mission trip in the future: “Go into the experience with an open mind. You are going to volunteer your time, but it’s not all about what you are going to get out of it. Be flexible and be open to helping in different ways.”
Vanessa Clark, class of 2016, is a student in the Medical University of South Carolina PA program.