Salus students posing for a group shot while volunteering in Guatemala

Guatemala 2023

In August 2023, twelve Physician Assistant students, one Blindness and Low Vision Studies student, three Physician Assistant faculty members, one physician, two nurses, and four non-medical volunteers traveled to Zacapa, Guatemala for one week.

PA students in GuatemalaThe students, along with in-country interpreters and a local physical therapist, were able to offer basic healthcare and health education to 550 medical and therapy patients in five different communities. This opportunity was possible through a partnership with Hearts in Motion, an international organization whose mission is to provide quality medical care and assist in the development of social programs to improve the health, education, and welfare of the people they serve in the US, and South and Central America. The experience allowed students to gain first-hand experience of medical care in an area with limited medical resources. Common problems encountered included dehydration, headache, gastrointestinal diseases, and chronic joint pain in addition to chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma.

The PA program was awarded a PA Foundation Global Outreach Grant, which allowed for the distribution of 285 water filters to families with poor-quality water sources. The students had the opportunity to educate family members on the proper use and maintenance of water filters, which can last for 10 years. The use of water filters offers a sustainable solution in helping to reduce the high prevalence of diarrheal diseases and the effects of dehydration while improving the overall quality of life.

PA students in GuatemalaThrough this experience, students were able to gain a deeper understanding of the role social determinants of health play in healthcare accessibility and outcomes that may be difficult to appreciate in the classroom setting. Although some of the barriers and disparities differ, the exposure to the social determinants of health that students obtained in the communities of Zacapa, Guatemala will better prepare them to meet the needs of their patients and the communities in which they live in the US.