Updated: May 14, 2019
There is nothing like it. While I had volunteered at numerous Special Olympics and homeless events during my first year of school, none of these experiences could have prepared me for the incredible, humbling, and life-changing experience I was about to embark on. Six podiatric students from Barry University, along with four other medical students, set out to challenge themselves and change lives in the underserved communities of the Dominican Republic. The students had only completed one year of training and were under the supervision of one doctor. This obstacle was amplified for podiatric students because they were expected to address general ailment, not just cases that are podiatry related.
Day 1 was the first test of our character and dedication with two clinics. Chairs and small tables were rearranged to give make-shift examination stations. In addition to a language barrier, the conditions were extremely hot with limited water and medical supplies. This set the tone for the rest of the trip, and the students met each new day with the same commitment and perseverance that they had on Day 1. In total, over 550 men, women, and children were examined and treated.
During the last night of the mission trip, the entire team of volunteers gathered around a table to share stories of patients or moments that were particularly meaningful. Many students commented how they had taken what they had for granted, such as running clean water, food, a safe place to live, and parents that cared deeply about them. Students said many of the ailments that the patients came for were quick fixes for us. If we felt like we had a cold or we had a headache, we could just go to a store and get a pill to ease the pain. However, this was clearly not the case in the Dominican Republic. The patients were so grateful for antibiotics, antiparasitic medications, ear drops, eye drops, allergy medication, and pain relief medications that many of them prayed for us and blessed us for our help. As I sat back to listen to these stories of the differences between our lives and theirs, I began to realize the similarities as well, especially one case in particular.
A woman came into the clinic because her baby would not sleep for longer than one hour and 30 minutes with no other symptoms. With knowledge from my previous experience as a therapist, I was able to determine that the home was chaotic with a verbally abusive husband, which was something I had work frequently. It made me realize that we aren’t just treating a symptom or condition; we are treating the entire person and their family. In order to truly care for our patients, we have to remember that they aren’t just a symptom or ailment, but a person with many aspects of their lives. The ability to do that cannot be taught in a classroom, but must be instilled within us. Compassion and understand are the keys to healing.
Elizabeth Ansert Barry University Class of 2019