Five hundred fifty patients served; 1,500 prescriptions filled; all in five days. Sounds exhausting.
“Oh yeah,” said pharmacy student Tara McIntosh, recalling the Gregory Center for Medical Missions trip to Honduras in June. At day’s end, after dinner, a shower, devotions and debriefing, “that’s when you start to feel exhausted,” she said. “But not during the day, because the patients were so thankful and grateful, and praying for you while you’re praying for them. It felt like something I enjoy doing, all day, every day.”
Tara and four other students from the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy worked under the supervision of Assistant Professor Keri DePatis, as the team partnered with Global Health Outreach (GHO), a ministry of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. “The students were great,” Keri said. “I didn’t hear any complaints, because they went into it with the mindset ‘I’m here to serve.’”
(Hmm, I thought. What if we all took that mindset with us, wherever we went?)
Each day Keri assigned three of her students to triage patients, checking blood pressure, blood glucose, weight, etc. Two students worked with Keri to fill the prescriptions written by GHO volunteer physicians. Bilingual students like Maria Gonzalez Haesler were an extra blessing, especially for counseling patients on taking medications, and praying with them.
Moving out of their comfort zones
Maria had never before acted as a translator; this was one of the many ways she and her fellow students rose to the occasion, growing out of their comfort zones. The photo here shows Maria (in the center), translating for Tara (at right) as they pray for a patient.
That prayer ended with hugs all around. “It was a wonderful experience, to be able to connect with people through God,” Maria said. Some of the patients the team met had not received medical attention in years. “It brings you much more passion for your career, to be able to help people in need,” she said.
Tara, who is from Jamaica, had been excited about mission trips ever since she toured the Gregory School while deciding where to study pharmacy. “That was one of the driving factors as to why I applied to PBA,” she said. “I have been blessed in so many small ways, but all the small ways add up to something really huge. And so I felt a mission trip was just one of the small ways that I could give back.”
When Tara learned she was selected to go on the trip to Honduras, “it was like winning the lottery,” she said. “I was screaming and jumping all over the place.”
The trip didn’t disappoint. Tara found the Honduran people to be “really beautiful, really appreciative.” And she learned much that will help her be a better pharmacist. “It definitely taught me to be more empathetic,” she said. “And it has helped me to be a lot more comfortable incorporating faith in the practice of pharmacy.”
Training for the future
The team saw many patients with respiratory problems, which made Tara think about her ultimate goal: to go back home to Jamaica and open an asthma clinic for children. During those long days on the mission trip, she realized, This is the training that I need.
For professor Keri DePatis, one of the biggest benefits of the trip was working with students outside of the classroom setting, learning about their plans and dreams. And hearing their testimonies of faith “was a really, really powerful time,” she said.
In July, the center sent another pharmacy team to El Salvador for similar work. “The Gregory Center for Medical Missions acknowledges the generous support and philanthropy provided by the Gregory family,” said Dr. Dana Strachan, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “It has always been the family’s passion to support student engagement on the medical mission field as an integral part of training to serve within a health profession.”
Undergraduate students from PBA also serve on mission trips. This summer, teams from the university traveled to Peru, Guyana, South Africa and across Europe. PBA nursing students and others take mission trips on their spring break as well. Many students will develop a mission-oriented lifestyle. To borrow Tara’s words, I think it all adds up to “really huge” blessings, which reminds me of the old hymn “Count Your Blessings.”
Hymnwriter Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote, “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” At Palm Beach Atlantic University, we’re greatly blessed and encouraged by the teams who devote time and talent to mission trips. And the deepest blessing is to realize what the Lord has done in and through these students, faculty and staff, as they follow His call to serve the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of underserved populations.
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu)
For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/