During the first week of spring break, the Harrison Morgan Brown Pre-Medical Society organized a spring break medical service trip to Nicaragua through Global Medical Training (GMT). GMT is a non-profit organization run by Dr. Wil Johnson, whose goal is to further the medical education of pre-medical students internationally. Our schedule was as follows:
March 19: Arrive and settle in Nicaragua
March 20: Orientation to GMT and Managua, Nicaragua
March 21: Clinic Day 1
March 22: Clinic Day 2
March 23: Travel to Granada, Nicaragua; Tour of Granada
March 24: Clinic Day 3
March 25: Clinic Day 4
March 26: Depart!
Our group consisted of 13 current Williams students, one Williams ’10, and four non-Williams students (two from Kansas, one from UC Irvine, and one from UT Austin). We all arrived in Nicaragua, and was it hot! Throughout our trip, the weather was in the 80s to low 90s–a welcome break from the snow in Williamstown! In addition, Nicaragua is the second poorest country (only to Haiti) in the Americas, and the living situations of many people were immediately apparent as we drove to our hotel from the airport.
The next day, we had an orientation to the basics of medical diagnosis and how each clinic day would function. Basically, before we arrived, the GMT staff had contacted community leaders and asked them to compile a list of 100 patients for one day. Then, on our clinic days, the staff and students set up clinics in a local school or church along with our own pharmacy (mostly of donated medications (ibuprofen, multivitamins) and antibiotics). GMT never goes to the same neighborhood twice in order to maximize an equal distribution of medical care.
CLINIC DAYS: During each clinic day, we arrived, set up the clinic, and divided into groups of three to four students with one translator. We had one “spanish-speakers group” which did not require a translator. It is the students job to determine the patient’s chief complaint and medical history, and then to conduct a focused physical exam. The group then calls one of the supervising physicians over, and the group presents the clinical case. The students work with the doctor to determine appropriate treatment, and one student will take the written prescriptions to the pharmacy, collect the medications, and bring them to the patient. Through this process, we saw 100 patients on each clinic day, making for a total of 400 patients.
Nicaragua has a public healthcare system, but it is plagued by lack of medications and long waiting lists for treatment. The clinics that GMT sets up allows patients access to medications that we often take for granted in the United States: ibuprofen, multivitamins, antibiotics, anti-parasite treatment, etc.
Each day in the clinics, two students would also rotate working in the pharmacy and two would work in dentistry. Pharmacy allowed students to become familiar with medication usage and dosage information. In Dentistry, students assisted Dra. Karen Zapata to clean teeth, fill cavities, perform extractions, and to conduct dental hygiene education for each patient, especially the pediatric patients.
However, our trip also scheduled one day of fun and tourism in Granada, one of Nicaragua’s oldest colonial cities. The Nicaraguan capital of Managua is spread out and not conducive to exploring on foot. However, Granada, 40 minutes from Managua, has a colonial charm that has captured the hearts of native Nicaraguans and tourists alike. On our “free” day, we started off ziplineing in the forest near the Mombacho volcano. We then had lunch on the shore of Lake Nicaragua and then had a boat tour of the lake, where we saw the houses of some of the wealthiest families in Nicaragua and also saw local wildlife (birds and monkeys!) We then concluded with a city tour in horse-pulled carriages through Granada.
Our last two clinic days flew by, and before we knew it it was time to leave beautiful Nicaragua. Throughout our experiences in the clinics, the patients were so grateful and appreciative of our work. However, it truly was our privilege to help them, and it was our group who was most thankful.