Thursday, May 30, 2019 - 12:00pm
Dobbs Ferry Campus
Bronx Campus
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This spring, staff and students from Mercy College’s School of Health and Natural Sciences travelled to the Dominican Republic for a five-day humanitarian mission. Based in Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, but traveling throughout the country, representatives from the Physician Assistant Studies, Communication Disorders and Physical Therapy Programs attended to and treated thousands of individuals in need of health care.

“We went on the pilot mission three years ago, and it really worked out for the students’ experience and the organization, so they’ve asked us to come back every year,” explained Lorraine Cashin, Assistant Professor and Director of the Physician Assistant Program. Mercy works with Friends of Lead-Free Children, which has been running missions to the Dominican Republic for over 25 years, as well as corporate sponsor Continental Food and Beverage Inc./Inca Kola USA.

Individuals of all ages, with concerns ranging from infectious diseases to orthopedic injuries, are seen by the Physician Assistant students. Cashin noted that the students will conduct interviews with the patients and follow that with establishing a differential diagnosis and treating that diagnosis. Students then work with licensed providers to come up with a treatment plan for the patient.

For Cashin, who serves as coordinator as well as practitioner, these trips also serve as opportunities for Mercy’s staff to see how their students apply classroom lessons into real-world situations.

“I think it’s that ability to work alongside your students, to help them and to watch them now interact with patients, even though you are there to guide them throughout the patient encounter,” she said. “I think it’s great to have that one-on-one with your student as they work beginning to end with a patient.”

Physician Assistant students also gain exposure to what students in the other programs are learning, and it leads to collaborative efforts in treating patients.

“They really enjoy seeing what these students from the other programs do because they don’t have that much knowledge about those areas. It’s interesting to them to see what Communication Disorders does because it’s not just hearing,” Cashin remarked. “They’ll work on different patients together and try to work them up and see if there is a problem that is better suited for communications assessment first and then a medical assessment or determine what the priority is.”

For Maria Levano ’19, a graduate student in Physician Assistant Studies, this was her second humanitarian mission to the Dominican Republic and she could sense the professional growth these trips offer.

“This trip has made me a lot more confident in my ability to treat and interact with patients on a clinical level. It is rewarding to be able to know that all the knowledge and training I have acquired through the years has come together to shape me as the physician assistant I have become thus far,” Levano explained. “I believe the mission trips help to hone your skills in order to provide thorough yet adequate medical care for the patients’ needs with the limited resources and tools available to treat.”

Levano noted that the group visited new locations this year, including a school for the deaf, which allowed the students to see a different set of conditions than they may have experienced previously. The trip also provides teachable moments for the students.

“The patients we see in both the Dominican Republic and the United States are simply people coming to receive the best medical care and advice they can get,” she said. “The main difference is that in the Dominican Republic we lack the resources to provide the best medical care possible, and the patients lack knowledge about preventative medicine. There is a lot more teaching involved when providing care in these under-served areas, as you have to be able to explain to them how to use what they have available to treat their illness or prevent further problems.”

Kristyn Neroda, another Physician Assistant Studies student, emphasized the shared sense of appreciation between the patients and the students.

“This trip truly was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Being able to provide basic medical needs to people who do not have adequate access is so rewarding,” Neroda mentioned. “The people in the villages were so grateful for everything we were able to do for them and that in itself was so rewarding. It really made me realize how much I have and how fortunate I am. It truly is a humbling experience.”