In May, students from Mercy College’s Physician Assistant Program traveled to The Gambia on a 10-day humanitarian medical mission. The team — which included 22 students, two alumni and four faculty members — provided free medical care to approximately 750 people. This was Mercy’s third trip to The Gambia, with the last one dating back to 2019.
“Many people hadn’t seen a doctor since the last time Mercy visited four years ago,” said Mercy College student Emily See, M.S. ’24. “There were patients with lots of problems, some of whom we couldn’t help because it was years too late. That was heartbreaking.”
Over the course of five days, the Mercy team treated patients both in a makeshift clinic in Penyem — a village just over an hour outside the capital — and the Bundung Maternal and Child Health Hospital. The trip was organized by the African Cultural Exchange, a U.S.-based nonprofit that facilitates humanitarian programs in Africa.
The Mercy team treated all kinds of medical needs ranging from basic to emergencies, including lacerations to respiratory distress. For example, patients had lacerations, infected abscesses and fungal infections. One person was vomiting blood, a few people had seizures while waiting in line and a baby arrived in full respiratory distress. Students also got to see diseases that are rare in the U.S., including syphilis and tuberculosis.
“In The Gambia, students put together pieces from the whole didactic year to formulate diagnoses,” said Mercy College Assistant Professor Lorraine Cashin, M.S. ’01, director of the Physician Assistant Program. “There’s such value in students practicing how to use their own observations and patients’ responses to come up with diagnoses as opposed to relying on all the tests and machines that practitioners often use in the U.S.”
See was grateful for all the practice: “Faculty members really let us lead everything with zero judgment, which was amazing. I learned how to think on my feet to solve a problem in a different way since I didn’t have all the tests or equipment you’d have in the U.S. I was thinking about not just how to treat a patient but maybe five treatments down the line because we didn't have access to the first four.”
On the last day, students worked rapid fire after a quick lunch to see all the remaining patients before catching their return flight. “I’ll never forget the desperation on their faces,” said See. “They stuck around hoping we'd see them even though we’d already closed the clinic.”
The trip taught Harry to be even more humble and respectful of how others live. He plans to continue his service by mentoring a young man in the village who wants to study medicine: “If he brings that education back to the village, that’ll help many more people.”
Medical missions arranged by Mercy’s School of Health and Natural Sciences – such as the missions to The Gambia and the Dominican Republic which look place earlier this year - provide students with invaluable clinical experience and offer unique insights into the health care profession. Even more so, Mercy’s mission trips contribute to global health efforts in a post-COVID 19 reality where many countries are grappling with extreme disparity and lack of medical services. In preparing future generations of workers to confidently meet the needs of their diverse patients and navigate a rapidly evolving health care landscape, the trips exemplify the Mercy College mission.
To learn more about the Mercy College Physician Assistant Program, please click here.