Panama 2018

Panama Trip - PA Student GroupIn August 2018, the day after they successfully completed their didactic year, nine of our Physician Assistant students and one faculty member traveled to Darién, Panama with an international, non-profit organization to provide healthcare to the indigenous population of the area. Joining them in Panama were two local physicians, a local dentist and a pharmacist. Over the course of six days, the team, along with PA students from Hofstra University, volunteered at intake, triage, consultation and pharmacy stations and assisted in evaluating 425 patients. Students also provided public health education “Charlas” (Spanish for “chats”) for children less than 12 years of age while families waited for their medications to be filled. 

“It was amazing for me to watch our students apply the medical knowledge they received at Salus,” said Jeanne-Marie Pennington, MSPAS, PA-C, clinical coordinator, Physician Assistant Program. “It has been a long time since my last volunteer opportunity and it has been awesome being able to share this experience with our students.”

Lessons Learned shared by students:
Evan Schulz ‘19PA
  • Evan Schulz ‘19PABe thankful for what you have 
    • I have never appreciated access to clean drinking water as much as I have since returning from this trip. The majority of the chief complaints we saw in clinic were related to issues surrounding contaminated drinking water. 
    • We take it for granted that when are sick we can drive to a clinic or even call an ambulance. We saw many patients who walked up to four hours each way in the equatorial heat to wait in line for several hours before being seen. 
  • Learn to do more with less   
    • The clinical team was able to properly diagnose and treat hundreds of people with a wide variety of ailments in an elementary school, with nothing more than a good history and physical exam. Clinicians are constantly reminded to listen to the patient first and not to rely on the flashy new diagnostic modality – a type of equipment used to acquire structural or functional images of the body. This first-hand experience made me think what I would do if I was a rural practitioner. I have tried to emulate this degree of bedside detective work when rounding on patients during my clinical rotations back at home. 
  • Regardless of cultural identity or geographic location, we are all the same people attempting to live healthy and fruitful lives.
    • On this trip we discussed the concept of the "white savior complex" – a term used in reference of Caucasian person who acts to help non-Caucasian people – and how to avoid falling into the cultural bias. I will admit that prior to actually seeing the Embera people, I did not know what to expect and grossly overestimated the extent of their illness. I was pleasantly surprised to see before me very similar patients to those I had seen in Philadelphia: elderly women with hypertension, working fathers reporting lumbar pain, and teenagers in Air Jordans shoes needing to have a tooth pulled along with some parasitic induced Gastrointestinal Intestine complaints peppered in. All patients are people, and all people deserve the same quality of life. 
Caroline Slattery '19PA
It was a really humbling experience to serve such an underprivileged population and a population that I had never been exposed to before. Arriving the first day at the village, I was nervous about what I was going to be exposed to and if I was actually going to be able to help them. But I quickly realized that the little I thought I could provide meant a whole lot more to them. As I continue my future in medicine, surrounded by all the advancing technology and new medical innovations, I hope to not lose the insight I gained from this experience. I want to stay aware of the inequalities of medical treatment across the world and how the most basic everyday medicine to one person, can be life changing to another. But I also want to remember that healing is composed of so much more than just medicine itself. Simply listening to these patients, educating them and building their trust with a different culture, seemed almost more valuable to them than the prescription we gave them. Despite the language barrier, the hugs and smiles exchanged spoke a strong message of the power of the work we did.