Northeastern prides itself on experiential learning. As a Sophomore Biology/Pre-Med student, I had the opportunity to participate in a medical mission to the Dominican Republic with graduate members of the Nursing School over this spring break.
As the only undergraduate, it was intimidating being around all of the other graduate nursing students on the trip who had so much more knowledge and experience than I did. Even so, I was very excited to be able to participate in this program.
We landed in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, on a Saturday afternoon. It was a pleasant 75 degrees there, which was a great change from the cold, snowy Boston weather we had been having. As a group, we spent the night in the capital to get some rest before our long drive to Cotui, our location for the next two weeks where we were going to set up clinics. Once we reached Cotui, we spent our entire day unloading and organizing all of the supplies we had brought. There were 24 of us on the trip and each of us had two 50lb suitcases of supplies, totaling to literally a ton of supplies. We sorted through hundreds of bottles of medications, personal care items, and wound care supplies. All of the supplies that we brought were given to us through donations and it was very heartwarming to see the overwhelming response. Once all of the suitcases were finally unpacked and all of the supplies were sorted, we enjoyed a traditional Dominican meal of plantains and pineapples. It was delicious. Exhausted, we all rested up for our first day out in the clinics.
We woke up the next morning eager to start our first day. We packed up our supplies and took a short drive to our first clinic location in this small town. As we arrived, there was already a line of people who were waiting for us to come so that they can be seen. Setting up as quickly as we could, we began seeing patients. Back home in the United States, I have volunteered over 500 hours in local hospitals, have shadowed physicians, and have been active in learning about the medical field. However, I have not been able to have any patient contact, only being able to observe the ways in which nurses and physicians approach these situations. On this first day of clinic in the Dominican Republic, I was able to learn so much about patient assessments and was even able to do some hands on work. I remember before we saw our first patient, I was practicing how to take a blood pressure on another member of my group. I knew how to take blood pressures and have taken many blood pressures before, but never in a clinical setting. The first patient we saw asked if she could have her blood pressure taken and without hesitation the members of my group looked at me to take it. I took her blood pressure and then just to make sure, another group member took it too. We both reported the same blood pressure. I will always remember this story because, even though I was the youngest on the trip and had the least experience, they trusted me enough to do what I saw to be important work. To them, taking a blood pressure was routine and simple. To me, taking a blood pressure was huge. It was a step up from what I have been doing in the hospitals the past five years and it was great to see that I could use all of the knowledge I had from classes and the hospitals and actually apply it to a real life situation.
While we were there, we went to 8 different locations and set up clinics. As the clinic days progressed and my Spanish became better, I was able to increase my role in the patient assessment. From taking blood pressures and only observing on day 1, by day 8, I was conducting the whole patient medical history and current health complaints by myself and was allowed to clean wounds, obviously under the supervision of a graduate student. It was an amazing trip and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to participate and gain so much knowledge and experience that will greatly benefit me on my path to becoming a doctor. Everyone on the trip was very helpful and encouraging and I cannot thank them enough for answering all of my questions and helping me out in this learning process. I would definitely participate in this program again, not only for the experience, but for the quality of work that was conducted for the people of the Dominican Republic, who do not have the luxury of having the money, supplies, or the healthcare system like we do here in the United States.
Stergios Gatzoflias, Biology