Our team hit the ground running on this medical trip to Panama. Our team of three medical providers, including a dentist from Panama City, a med student, an EMT, two non-medical volunteers, and a group of 17 students from Northern Kentucky University arrived in Panama in the morning, and by afternoon we were raring to go.
We spent our first afternoon visiting a work camp of the indigenous Ngobe people, who live on government-sponsored lands similar to our Native American reservations. The patients we saw had a great need for, but little access to, quality healthcare, so we felt fortunate to be able to tend to their needs and provide them with care.
We opened the clinic by welcoming our patients and making them feel comfortable. We always want to make sure they all have a positive experience from the beginning, as we see many patients who have never been to a doctor before. Not surprisingly, they can be a little nervous.
As in all of our clinics, we spent a lot of time teaching our patients how they can take some basic steps to improve their health. Through interpreters, we talked to them about treating and preventing health problems common in Panama such as dehydration, mosquito-borne illnesses, and worms. We also gave all children under 5 albendazole to treat them for worms and a megadose of vitamin A to help boost their immune systems. This makes these kiddos more resistant to infections and illnesses such as diarrhea, which can be deadly without the right treatment.
We were very fortunate to have a dentist on our mission team. So many of our patients suffered from painful infections and pulling those bad teeth made them feel much better. We also offered fluoride treatments for preventive care. We taught everyone how to brush their teeth – something we take for granted – and send them all off their own toothbrushes.
Each day we handed out reading glasses, which are very popular with our patients. Even though many of them can’t read, glasses can help with everyday household tasks such as sewing and working on machinery.
“I learned a lot about the culture of the patients in this community and their healthcare needs. I learned that an effective provider also acts as an educator to teach this community how to take care of themselves.” Lindsey, NKU student
Our clinics also offer an invaluable opportunity for students to learn in the field from medical professionals. On this trip, some of the students from NKU spent time shadowing our medical staff, asking patients questions for their medical histories, listening to lung sounds, identifying rashes, and offering their opinion on what might be wrong with the patient.
We spent our last day in clinic in a remote mountain village that required us to travel to first by van, then by 4×4 trucks. Not surprisingly, the area had limited accessibility to healthcare. Crowds were waiting when we arrived, and many of our patients had walked long distances to see us. and we were thankful for the impact we were able to make on their community.
On this trip to Panama, we saw nearly 600 patients and made a positive impact on their health. We treated their ailments and left them with knowledge to help them better care for themselves and their families.