written by Trevor Jordan, intern, university news and communications
OXFORD – Twenty-four Miami University students became part of several medical brigades to help Nicaraguan families during a service study abroad program that mixed both medical and Spanish skills.
Students traveled over 3000 miles to Granada, Nicaragua, during winter term 2014 as part of either Miami’s Integrating Spanish and Health (ISH) or Medical Immersion Spanish (MIS) program. The winter term program was fashioned after a spring service-learning trip developed by Nohelia Rojas-Miesse and Julie Szucs, both from the department of Spanish and Portuguese.
The winter programs included pre-med science majors with a handful of Spanish minors who put their medical and Spanish skills to use.
The program consisted of two groups, one for credit (MIS) and one noncredit (ISH). Each group spent one week in Granada.
Students who took the MIS program studied in Oxford two weeks prior (Jan. 6 – 17) to traveling abroad (Jan. 18 – 25). Here, Szucs taught a medical Spanish course to help students prepare for the trip. Topics covered included the health care system, medical conditions, prenatal care and pediatric care.
Those who took the ISH program arrived on Jan. 11 and went straight to work.
Between the two programs, students helped an estimated 2,400 patients. They helped doctors by sorting medicine, checking in patients, interviewing patients to determine a medical history and taking blood pressure, said senior bioengineering pre-med student Jason Ina.
Students were encouraged to bring various donations, ranging from medicine to toothbrushes. At each brigade, these items were passed out to families in need.
Ina, one of the students to arrive the first week, recognized the gravity of the work.
“It’s an eye-opening experience. You see all of these pictures, and hear of these stories… but to actually be there and see the kind of lifestyle and poverty, and how they could truly use help,” he said. “It’s not that hard to actually help people; you just have to do it.”
Students also helped by interacting with the children.
“On one of the days, we only had one doctor with us. So, as some of the students helped inside, a few others and myself went outside to play with some of the children,” said senior zoology pre-med student Amy Hutchison. “It was so rewarding that just the simple act of playing with them made their day. It will be something I remember forever.”
Within the first day, students were already expanding their comfort zones in terms of practice and language, said Rojas-Miesse. By adjusting to a basic conversational level of speaking, students could then work one-on-one with the doctors and patients to develop their medical experience.
“Being in an environment where you have no other option but to speak the language of the country in order to communicate can be challenging, but it is truly the best way to learn the language,” said Hutchison.
Both Rojas-Miesse and Szucs continue to be impressed with all the good their students do, and are optimistic about the program in the coming years. With continued efforts, they hope to cause a “ripple-effect” in both the students and patients; not just helping them now, but helping them for the rest of their lives, said Szucs.
“It’s important for us as teachers to see them applying what they learned to help so many people,” said Szucs. “…and for [the students] to see the impact we are making in the communities.”
Ina believes a student’s commitment to helping others and the evolution of the program go beyond the one-week visit.
“The instructors focus on taking pre-med students on these trips to experience the conditions first hand, as I did,” said Ina. “The long-term goal of the program is that once we become doctors, we’ll take what we learned to help the people who need it most.”
A second goal of the instructors is to gradually increase the amount of donations they are able to provide for patients each year. To help, Ina has contacted members of Miami’s Chapter of Phi Delta Epsilon, the International Medical Fraternity. With the help of the fraternity, Ina would create a fundraiser to contribute to the cause.