A group of SMU students, faculty, and alumni spent their semester break delivering health care in the Panamanian Ngäbe-Buglé region with Hands for Americas. The group included Physician Assistant (PA) students, Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) and FNP students, Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPTs) and a DPT student from SMU—in addition to pre-healthcare students from San Francisco State University interested in pursuing PA and nursing education. The group raised more than $4000 in a little under one month to fund the purchase of supplies and important drugs to use during the three-day clinic. Additionally, the group secured donations of many personal-care items to distribute during the clinic visits.
After acclimating to the climate, and a day-tour of the Panama Canal, the Causeway, and Casco Viejo, the group of 17 providers set out with two interpreters and a support team for the all-day trip to the top of Batata mountain. The school here would serve as home base for three full days of clinic. The trip to Batata was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, culminating in a three-hour trip in the back of 4x4s on unpaved mountain roads, higher and higher into the mountains of western Panama.
Then, the real work started, with the group preparing four classrooms to serve as health exam rooms, a physical therapy clinic, and pharmacy. During the three days of clinic, the group saw 547 people for a variety of health conditions, health education, and screenings. We had two patients with severe enough conditions that we had to arrange for transportation to the nearest hospital in Santiago, roughly 3.5 to 4 hours away by car.
This trip was the first with physical therapists and physical therapy students from SMU, and our PT screenings and education were very much appreciated by the group. Not only did we provide physical therapy to Panamanians in the clinic, but we also made sure the providers and whole team stayed in tip-top condition during the trip! Our exciting week in Panama was capped off by packing up our clinic, driving back down the beautiful Panamanian mountains in our 4x4s, and a final afternoon spent at Farallon Beach on the Pacific coast.
Special thanks to this mission trip organizer, SMU PA student Briseida Romero, and SMU FNP faculty member, Suzanne August, who did a fantastic job organizing the behind-the-scenes details for such a successful trip.
Samuel Merritt University is organizing a trip in August to the same region in Panama, through Hands for Americas, and we hope to continue our relationship and medical services in this region.
By Sharon Gorman, Associate Professor, Physical Therapy
Photos by Anya Tomkiewicz and Patrick Ohsann