SMU Students and Faculty Provide Care to Hundreds in Panama

By Dr. Sharon Gorman

, Associate Professor, Dept. of Physical Therapy

During their summer break, nine SMU students and three faculty, along with a local dentist, returned to Batata, a small village in a remote region of central Panama. Programs represented in this trip include Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Physical Therapy (PT), and Physician Assistant (PA).

Participants brought with them approximately one ton of medical supplies, all donated or purchased with money collected through only three months of fundraising efforts. The SMU group partnered with Hands for Americas. This was the second collaboration of SMU and Hands for Americas to provide care in Panama this year. This trip was a follow-up trip to the April 2013 medical care trip.

It was exciting to return to Batata. While much of the school that we use as a base had not changed, word had spread about the clinics. In three days of medical clinics we saw approximately twice as many patients, and on our first day, which ran over 12 hours, we nearly treated 300 people. Heavy afternoon rains inevitably decreased the number of patients a few of the days, since they all must walk to the clinic. Our youngest patient was only 10 days old while the oldest was well into her 80s. While the average walk for most patients to get to the clinic was two to four hours, we did have one family who walked all day (24 hours) to come and be seen.

Our clinic involved triaging patients, providing anti-helmitic medications, and providing general health assessments, including prescribing medications. Our pharmacy, in addition to preparing all the medications and filling prescriptions, also coordinated family packs that included personal care items and small gifts for each member of the family. Consultations were available for those who had physical therapy needs, as well as basic dentistry such as cleaning or tooth extraction. We provided basic health care education as well.

One exciting part of these trips is working in an interprofessional manner that allows the students to really experience how other providers can augment patient care. PT students and faculty working with FNP and PA students to diagnose treat a woman with vertigo and dizziness, nursing students triaging patients for further examination by PA and FNP students, and everyone chipped in some time to work in the pharmacy to fill prescriptions and put together family packs.

This trip demonstrated how, when professionals work together, real patient-centered care takes place, even in a rural setting with limited resources.

These two trips to Panama have forged great relationships among students from different programs, who otherwise may not have ever met. Many of the participants from the April Panama trip had a reunion at the A’s game fundraiser being sponsored by the August group. And, plans are underway to continue fundraising for a much anticipated return to Batata in April of 2014. Likewise, the PT participants are submitting a proposal to present at Combined Sections Meeting (the largest PT conference in the world) in Feb 2014, during the Global Health Reception.

Jessica Bailey, PT Class of 2014, says, "This was my first medical trip and it left a significant impression on me. It was almost impossible to understand exactly how remote the location was. I knew it would take us three hours in the back of 4X4 trucks to get there (standing up, no less!) but to experience the ride to the school where we were setting up clinic, it was humbling to realize how far away our patients were from any kind of service, health care related to not. On the way up the mountain, people stared at us, they looked a little confused as to why we were coming all this way for them. We had been told SMU were the only people willing to travel this far to run a clinic. My favorite part was seeing all those children wave to us on the road as we left, knowing we had made a difference and they appreciated our efforts it made it all worth while."
These two Panama trips in 2013 have sparked student interest in reviving the International Healthcare Club (IHC) at SMU. We hope that IHC can serve as a campus-wide group for students, staff, and faculty interested in global health which can also help the various medical missions occurring in a variety of schools and departments to interact, share information and experiences, and coordinate fundraising efforts.

Watch for announcements in the coming weeks about meetings, visit our new webpage or contact Bonnie Joy, PA student, or Dr. Sharon Gorman if you are interested in participating.

Click here to view photos from the trip.

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