In 2018, prior to coming to PA school, I was fortunate to serve as an intern at a Christian rural medical clinic in a small village in Belize. This is an outpatient clinic that is run by local Belizeans and offers things like family care, maternal and women’s health, and even has its own pharmacy. This is the only place where hundreds of people have access to any form of medical care for miles. Each day, dozens of patients arrive by bike, foot or bus to be seen.
There is only one receptionist, nurse, physician, pastor, and pharmacist. People wait hours patiently to be seen. The clinic is run by a team of administrators who work tirelessly behind the scenes, organizing volunteer physicians, nurses and interns to help year-round. A lot of the medications are donated by U.S. organizations and ministry donations. It is a beautiful production that leads to meeting both the physical and spiritual needs in the community.
I was fortunate to get to serve there as a nursing assistant for the majority of my time, checking in patients in Spanish, taking their history and vitals and learning more about them. I later worked alongside the pharmacist who works tirelessly day in and out. She has no assistant, cashier or pill counter. She does it all herself with a smile and passion to serve others. My favorite part of the experience being there for 10 weeks goes beyond the walls of the clinic.
While I was fortunate to learn so much about medicine, I most enjoyed getting to know the community and culture. Being invited into a family’s home for lunch, hosting game night and Bible study in my house weekly for the local kids, these things were my favorite. What a joy it is to see 12 kids experience their first s’more around a bonfire! After being submerged in the culture for a while, layers begin to peel back and you start to see that though our languages and skin colors may differ, love is the same across cultures. Human needs, emotions and desires are much more similar than different.
My second experience was quite different but equally as challenging and impactful. I was fortunate to be able to go on a short term medical mission trip in 2019 to a city in northern Haiti. The team consisted of six medical providers, two nurses, a few other helpers and myself. We partnered with an existing Hatian church that is supported by various churches in the U.S. The days leading up to the trip, we were not sure if we were going to be able to go due to the uneasy conditions in the country at the time. The CDC issued a “Level 4: Do not travel” warning, as there were active riots and generally unsafe conditions.
The power of prayer is something to never be underestimated. Not only did we arrive at our location safely, but our entire trip was overwhelmingly blessed. We saw roughly 120-150 patients a day. I was on the triage team and was able to check in the patients, obtain their vitals and history and pray with them. Each provider spent time with them and their families, as well as provide three months worth of medicine for most of the chronic conditions.
The Carribean in May was hot! There was no air conditioning, no Wi-Fi, tons of mosquitoes and very minimal breaks. However, I saw how hard every member of the team worked to get each patient seen, to make them feel loved, heard and treated. There was no complaining. The team was there to serve, and the patients were so grateful for it. That is the kind of provider I am striving to be – both abroad and in the U.S.
One of the most challenging things about going on mission trips is feeling like a drop in the ocean. What happens in three months when they run out of medicine and cannot afford it anymore? Healthy food, clean water, education, adequate shelter; these things are not always accessible to many others around the world. This is where I learned the most from these seasoned providers. The point isn’t always lowering a patient’s blood pressure or Hg A1C by a few numbers.
The main goal of our trips is to spread the Gospel and share about the hope of eternal life, given through Jesus Christ, to each person we encounter. We want them to have the chance to hear how in heaven, they can be free from poverty, illness and worries of this world. Medicine is the vehicle to do that. In the meantime, we are empowered to use the resources that we have been blessed with in the U.S. (education, money, access to healthcare) to serve others who are not as fortunate. To that one individual you helped, service can feel like a lot more than a drop in the ocean.
If you would like to donate, or go on a trip overseas please see this attached website (there are more than just medical opportunities): https://mtw.org/missiontrips
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’” ― Mother Teresa
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” ― Mother Teresa
-Laini English, PA-S1