When Emma Stratton and Meghan Fer­riera, 2009 grad­u­ates of North­eastern University’s physi­cian assis­tant pro­gram, did their last five-​​week clin­ical rota­tion in the Cen­tral Amer­ican nation of Belize, one med­ical tool they did not miss was access to high-​​tech diag­nostic equipment.

Without CT scan­ners and sim­ilar machines, Stratton and Fer­riera found the learning expe­ri­ence more valuable.

Faced with a wide range of clin­ical emer­gen­cies, from shark bites and machete wounds to abscesses, malaria and par­a­sites, “We got to use our diag­nostic skills quite a bit because we didn’t have equip­ment like CT scans avail­able to us, “ said Stratton.

Three days a week, at Belize Hill­side Health­care Inter­na­tional in Punta Gorda, the pair treated fam­i­lies who rode as much as three hours on a bus to get there.

Before they went to Belize, nei­ther had done any med­ical work abroad, said Stratton. Both agreed the expe­ri­ence enriched their edu­ca­tion, and made them better future practitioners.

I’d say it made me a much more con­fi­dent person, espe­cially when using my diag­nostic skills without the ben­efit of the tech­nology we take for granted here,” Fer­reira said.

The pair put those skills to work one day while dri­ving a med­ical van during a twice-​​weekly trip to out­lying com­mu­ni­ties. A dis­tressed man ran up to the pair, waiving his arms and yelling. “He was yelling that we had to stop because a little girl had fallen out of a tree,” said Stratton.

The pair tested the girl’s motor skills and exam­ined her eyes before assuring the family that she did not have a con­cus­sion and advising them of symp­toms to watch for with a head injury.

The ability to reas­sure the family that the child would be fine gave us a great feeling,” Fer­reira said.

Med­ical care was in such short supply in Belize that often fam­i­lies of seven or more would swarm into the clinic, sick or not. “We saw one family of 10 (mem­bers). Some of the chil­dren had nothing wrong. Others were sick. Since it was a rare oppor­tu­nity to see a med­ical prac­ti­tioner, the par­ents brought the whole family along, and we exam­ined all of them,” Stratton said.

As they pre­pare to start their first jobs at hos­pi­tals in New Eng­land, both credit the inter­na­tional expe­ri­ence through North­eastern with shaping their futures.

Fer­reira said that when she started studying to be a physi­cian assis­tant at North­eastern, “I thought, ‘My God, why doesn’t every­body want to do this?’ ”

For more infor­ma­tion on the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity physi­cian assis­tant pro­gram, please visit http://​www​.north​eastern​.edu/​b​o​u​v​e​/​p​r​o​g​r​a​m​s​/​m​p​h​y​s​a​s​s​i​s​t​/​m​p​h​y​s​a​s​s​i​s​t​.​h​tml