Grad­uate stu­dents in the physi­cian assis­tant studies master’s pro­gram recently embarked on a vol­un­teering effort to Guatemala to deliver free med­ical care to families.

First-​​year grad­uate stu­dent Christie Smethurst, who orga­nized the effort, said the expe­ri­ence served as much more than an oppor­tu­nity to help those in need. It was also an impor­tant reminder to stu­dents of the impact of such efforts and why they work so hard to enter the med­ical profession.

Smethurst, MS’15, recalled that the physi­cian who joined the North­eastern team there described the expe­ri­ence as “med­i­cine in its purest form.” That mes­sage res­onated with the 19 grad­uate stu­dents who participated.

I thought it would be really cool for people to get a renewed per­spec­tive on life and to remember why we are doing this,” Smethurst said.

During their spring break at the end of April, the stu­dents went to the Lake Ati­tlan region of Guatemala, where they worked at a med­ical clinic oper­ated by Promise Land Min­istries. They saw more than 500 patients in just four days time, which also served as a valu­able global expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity to put their class­room studies into real-​​world action.

It was great to see things we learned in our pro­gram [in the class­room] be man­i­fested in real life,” Smethurst said. “We had famil­iarity with some of the dis­eases and drugs, as well as the phys­ical exam process and get­ting a patient’s history.”

The stu­dents also brought med­i­cine with them to re-​​stock the clinic’s phar­macy and wrote more than 1,000 pre­scrip­tions. But their goal went beyond admin­is­tering direct med­ical care; they also helped improve the long-​​term quality of life for fam­i­lies by con­structing stoves for some res­i­dents’ homes.

Res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems, Smethurst explained, are common in the part of Guatemala because fam­i­lies cook over open fires in their homes, which lack the proper ven­ti­la­tion to allow dan­gerous fumes to escape. “These stoves we built keep the fire con­tained so they aren’t openly burning, and a chimney that goes through the roof vents all the smoke out,” Smethurst said.

The stu­dents did their own fundraising for the trip and col­lected more than $17,000. Catherine Sad­owski, an assis­tant clin­ical pro­fessor in the physi­cian assis­tant studies pro­gram, even taught stu­dents impor­tant med­ical terms in Spanish before they trav­eled to Guatemala.

The stu­dents were really enthu­si­astic,” Sad­owski said. “I thought it would be helpful because in today world’s, espe­cially if you are going into the med­ical pro­fes­sion, knowing some Spanish is useful.”

Smethurst said she’s hopeful that new first-​​year stu­dents next year can pick up where she left off and orga­nize another trip back to Guatemala.