Local residents gather to watch a skit on health and hygiene created by AUC students.
Members of the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine’s (AUC) Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA)—one of AUC's many student organizations and clubs—organized, funded, and completed a medical service mission trip to La Antigua, Guatemala last spring. For many participants, it was a life-changing experience that affirmed their commitment to providing medical care to disadvantaged communities.
The 12 students, along with two physicians, raised money for and provided much-needed items such as toothpaste, vitamins, supplements, antibiotics, antihistamines, painkillers, antiparasitics, and other essential medications to local residents. In addition, the students worked alongside local doctors to provide free healthcare screenings for people of all ages ranging from young children to older adults.
How This Medical Mission Trip Was an Eye-Opening Experience
Paula Lopez, LMSA vice president, says that the trip taught her to make the most of what you have. “After going abroad to Guatemala, I came to understand that no matter how hard one tries, it is really difficult to find a solution for everyone, but what one can do is to make the best use out of the resources available.” She adds that the gratitude the students received “was very rewarding.”
Kathryn Majdick, one of the principal organizers of the trip, was moved by her experience serving as a translator and member of a small group of students who, along with a Guatemalan physician, interviewed, diagnosed and treated residents of a small village outside La Antigua.
“We had to cross a river and traverse many dirt roads to get there,” she recalls. “It was easy to see that the people had few resources, but they had a church, a soccer field and a schoolhouse… Each patient was incredibly patient, waiting over and hour to see us, and being constantly interrupted as our local doctor taught us to perform important physical exam procedures and recognize signs and symptoms. They were all incredibly gracious and appreciative. I felt immediately re-inspired.”
An Emotional Reminder of Why We Practice Medicine
One patient left a lasting impression on Majdick. A 68-year-old woman had many serious health conditions, including uncontrolled diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, and low blood pressure. “She was not able to get her medications due to lack of funds, access to a pharmacy, and any kind of routine care. As we discussed her symptoms, she began to cry. She told me ‘estoy suffriendo,’ which means ‘I am suffering.’ She said she was lucky to eat a tortilla every day, and shared that she does not eat vegetables or fruit or protein.”
Majdick recalls feeling hopeless. She offered her hand to the woman and advised her to go the hospital for care, but thought she was unlikely to go. “We realized the limitations of our impact as well as the lack of sufficient care in this region.”
Reflecting upon this memory makes Majdick tearful, she says, because it serves as a reminder of why she is studying medicine and of her passion for community service.
More About the Latino Medical Student Association
The LMSA unites and empowers medical students through service, mentorship and education to advocate for the health of disadvantaged communities.
In addition to running the service mission to Guatemala, the organization’s 50 members have raised funds for an orphanage on St. Maarten, provided Medical Spanish classes to students interested in working with Spanish-speaking patients and communities, and delivered free medical examinations including blood pressure screenings, visual acuity tests, eye examinations, weight and height measures, and individual counseling about healthy lifestyles at a Community Action Day held at St. Martin of Tours Church. The association also holds potlucks to reunite students and share ideas and general meetings to inform members of projects for each semester.
Last summer LMSA, in conjunction with AUC’s Black Medical Student Association, hosted a talent show fundraiser for the St. Maarten Sickle Cell Foundation. The sold-out event resulted in a $1,200 donation.
Blanca Gomez-Castillo, LMSA president, invites students to join the club. She says that her leadership position has given her more confidence and provided opportunities to hone her social, organizational and leadership skills. She adds that it is helping to prepare her to multitask in the future, and maintain her commitment to devoting at least some of her time to serving disadvantaged communities.