Dozens of UMass Medical School faculty and students have recently returned from spring medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic, where they provided care for impoverished sugar plantation families and gained a profound respect for their patients.
Working together on care teams and guided by faculty, School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing students set up mobile clinics wherever they can find space, such as in schools or churches, to serve the local community workers and their families who live in “bateys,” or company towns. Patients, many of whom have no other access to health care, are lined up as soon as the students arrive in the morning.
“Having been down there in the past, I had a better idea of what we'd be seeing than first-timers,” said Vivek Venugopal, a third-year medical student and one of the trip leaders. “What continues to surprise and amaze me is the spirit of the people on the bateys. There is something truly amazing about these people, who live in tough conditions, and are an absolute testament to human perseverance.”
The trips are a key opportunity for medical and nursing students to train together in real life situations with UMMS faculty along as preceptors. Such interprofessional training is becoming increasingly important as part of the push for higher efficiency and improved patient safety and quality of care. The trip is now a fully accredited elective, co-sponsored by the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing.
“The students and preceptors do a lot of good,” said Michele Pugnaire, MD, senior associate dean for educational affairs and professor of family medicine & community health, who co-sponsored this year’s trips. “We saw more than 1,500 patients, including a pair of infant twins who had to be transported to the hospital because of dehydration.” The twins were taken by bus to the Good Samaritan Hospital in La Romana, the major city in the heart of the sugar cane-producing area of the Dominican Republic.
Students get a unique combination of deeply rewarding experiences and training in how to work together.
“I was excited to have this opportunity to work and bond with GSN students,” said MD/PhD student Alison Casserly, one of the leaders of the first trip. “And I was impressed by how quickly we came together.”
“We were more than ‘nurses’ and ‘doctors,’” said Nicole Coogins, also a GSN student. “We were teammates.”
The missions were originated by a small group of medical students who were interested in having international educational experiences. Launched in 2006, the first trip included just eight medical students and lasted six days. As a result of growing student interest across all three schools, planning now begins in the fall and the program comprises two back-to-back trips. This year the first trip took place from March 16 to the 23rd, and the second from March 23 to the 31st.