More than a decade before joining the class of 2020 in medical school, I had a chance to spend about a week in the Dominican Republic on a medical mission trip. While there were definitely several aspects of the experience I didn’t like, most of them were organizational and political and, at the time, over my head. What stuck with me, though, was the chance to make a very specific difference in several of our patient’s lives. In many cases, it wasn’t a huge, life-changing operation or diagnosis, but that’s not even remotely what it was about. For many of them, it was just the opportunity to have someone spend a bit of time with them, talk to them, and fix a medical problem that worried them – be it a huge one or not. That I can still vividly talk about and remember the trip from 2003 now is pretty amazing, and I think a sign of how strong a mark it left.
Having that experience, when I was presented with a chance to go on another similar medical outreach trip to El Salvador during my second year of med school, I jumped at the chance. The point of the trip was to let us as medical students experience what it would be like to have actual patient interaction outside of the classroom (or actors playing patients). With the safety net of preceptors who double checked our every step and interpreters who made sure that nothing was lost in translation, we were able to sit down and talk with patients, get their history and perform a complete physical exam on them, all with the hopeful goal of finding out what was wrong and how we could fix it. I think we collectively treated several hundred patients, from kids to the octogenarians and nonagenarians, and everything from the obligate parasitic infections (and the requisite albendazole prescriptions), to the coughs, fevers, allergies, abdominal and back pains, to patients who just wanted to reach out and connect with someone to share their stories.
I don’t really take selfies and don’t like photos of myself with patients, so instead, I tried to document the trip the best I could, both when we had some free time in the evenings, and when we were at the clinics, playing with the kids at an orphanage, or just generally taking in the world around us.
Here are some of my favorites.