Volunteer: Dan April

Volunteer
  • During:

    2013

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Bicol Clinic Foundation, Inc.
Philippines, 2013

I applied for this trip based on the recommendation of the past year's participants; their descriptions of the people they helped and the doctor's they encountered convinced me that I had to get myself to the Philippines. Well, they were right. My trip to the Philippines was everything they said and more. I can't imagine myself having done anything else.

We were lucky enough to be the first group to work in the newly built clinic. When I first saw the new building I realized they were very serious about growing this organization. The new building allowed many students and physicians to see patients in an organized and comfortable manner, while respecting patient's privacy during more invasive physical examinations. After two days stocking the new clinic and meeting everyone we jumped into it. On the first day I was seeing pathology I had only heard of in textbooks, even after many clinical hours in New Orleans. The upperclassmen organized us into three groups that rotated daily. The first group took complete histories and physical examinations and then presented to one of the physicians. This was very valuable experience as histories and physicals are what the clinical years of medical school are all about. The second group shadowed one of the Nepalese physicians. Although they were very concise because of the patient volume, the Nepalese took the time to teach us about each person's pathology and ask us for our differential diagnosis. Even when very wrong, which I was often, they were patient and talked through each case stepwise. The third group was in the operating room. Under the tutelage of the upperclassmen and Dr. Schuster we performed basic procedures that most students aren't able to do until fourth year or even residency. Although no procedure risked serious patient harm, it was an impactful experience for us younger students to actually use a scalpel and suture a human being.

For all of the gained practical medical experience I had a greater amount of emotional edification. We were dealing with hundreds of people seeking care, many of them with serious debilitating diseases. A difficult aspect of medical education is to teach students to have sympathy, imbuing a sense of responsibility and compassion. As the days wore on I tried to focus on finding reward from even the most mundane of tasks. Be it scrubbing someone's ulcerated foot wound or cleaning out a child's ears, I wanted to appreciate the fact that we were there to help when others were not. Experiences like this go a long way towards the making of a complete physician.

While I gained much from my time in the Philippines I hope I was able to give something back. As a young student you often feel useless and uncomfortable when confronted with serious situations and emergencies. While this was true at first I found that even when I had to let the real doctors do their work I could still look a suffering patient in the eyes and tell them (through a translator) that it would be okay.

Leaving the Philippines was emotional. We had all spent a month together experiencing something new, exciting, and often sad. Obviously many of us grew close. The biggest problem is that we won't be able to go back next year. But, I will do everything I can to return my fourth year to learn more and help guide the younger students who are along for the ride.

Dan April
Tulane University
Medical Student

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