Written By: Dana Valentine, Second-Year Student Pharmacist
Since first coming to the School of Pharmacy in 2014, I have searched for ways to become more involved in the field of public health, particularly global public health. During the most recent winter break – a time that many student pharmacists like myself use to decompress from the fall semester and begin preparing for the upcoming semester – I was fortunate to gain exposure as well as valuable, hands-on experience in this field by joining the University’s Global Medical Brigades on an unforgettable trip to Nicaragua.
Providing Health Care Abroad
Global Medical Brigades is an international volunteer program that provides students in universities around the world with opportunities to visit rural areas in developing countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama to help address the health care needs that exist in those communities. Each fall, the University’s Global Medical Brigades chapter advertises a new volunteer opportunity. Students from across all of the schools at the University can apply to participate in these experiences. Although I missed the deadline to participate in the experience last year, I made sure to submit my application as soon as possible this time and, luckily, was selected to serve as a volunteer! In fact, I was joined by more than 30 other students from the Schools of Pharmacy, Social Work, and Nursing – as well as practicing pharmacists and nurses – on our visit to Las Lomas, a small community located in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.
Serving A Common Goal
Witnessing students from multiple health care professions come together to serve a common goal — to help our fellow man — was indeed a beautiful experience. We established a base for our brigade in a community health clinic operated by local health care workers who were full of smiles and laughter and eager to assist us in any way possible. We brought medications, as well as medical supplies, that we could use to provide care for patients as well as dispense to individuals in need within the community. I assisted in a number of stations that were set up in the clinic, including triage, consultation, pharmacy, and dental care. With the assistance of local doctors, dentists, nurses, and clinic workers, our brigade was able to provide care for 820 patients – all during our short three-day visit!
Learning Valuable Life Lessons
Being part of the Global Medical Brigades team was a rewarding experience that is hard to put in words. It was unbelievable to see just how warm and welcoming everyone from the community was, despite language barriers. Their appreciation was evident through the kindness that they showed us every day, offering us coffee and snacks during our first meeting and the amazing send-off that they organized for us with a DJ and piñata full of lollipops. They truly went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed and to demonstrate their gratitude.
In addition, having the opportunity to work at a variety of stations allowed me to gain a better understanding of the different elements needed to provide patients with comprehensive health care. I recognized just how much I have learned in my first two years at the School of Pharmacy and was able to implement my knowledge and skills to help others. I also met students from different professional backgrounds and was able to watch them excel in their fields and learn from their expertise. Without this shared experience, I might never have met these individuals that I now call my friends, and for that, I will be eternally grateful for this experience.
If you are interested in serving as a volunteer with the Global Medical Brigades or would like more information about my experience, please feel free to contact me at Dana.Valentine@umaryland.edu. You can also contact the incoming president of the University’s Global Medical Brigades chapter, Ali Kirsch, at Akirsch@umaryland.edu.