USD recently welcomed the return of 30 pre-health students who spent several days facilitating a mobile clinic in the poverty-affected Darien province of Panama. Members of the USD Medical Brigades joined physicians to provide basic medical services to the people of Aguas Frias, including checkups, prescriptions and health education.
According to Brigades President and biochemistry major James Walston '12, Panama has a national healthcare system that provides free care to citizens. However, some of the most impoverished villagers live more than three hours from medical facilities. As a result, their need is great.
"Many people in this region live in remote agricultural communities with little or no access to medical care or education," said Brigades Vice President and biology major Shane Smith '12. "People here are often faced with parasitic infections from unclean water, breathing problems developed from poorly ventilated stoves, vitamin deficiencies from lack of nutrition, and skin problems from dirt floors and moist living environments."
Brigades members lived and worked in the areas of greatest need. They took patient history and vitals, provided educational talks on a variety of health topics and assisted doctors, dentists and pharmacists with basic clinical care. Thanks to fundraising efforts, they were able to supply $8,000 in medications and treat more than 600 patients.
"My time with the USD Medical Brigades has been an unforgettable experience," Smith said. "It has allowed me to witness the impact that a physician can have on a community in need, and it has solidified my desire to gain the training necessary to become a physician and help others in such a meaningful way."
According to Walston, the Medical Brigades are an embodiment of USD's Changemaker philosophy. One of the organization's main goals is to promote sustainable solutions to problems stemming from health disparities. For that reason, they seek to promote long-term wellness through education, and work to build a network of alumni physicians to help grow the program.
"My vision for the organization is that it will continue to be passed on to hardworking, compassionate students for many years to come," Walston said. "Once I graduate from medical school, I plan to come back and attend a mission as a physician."
Both Smith and Walston will attend medical school after graduating from USD.
- Anne Malinoski '11