Nursing students spend spring break providing health care in Dominican Republic
CLEMSON — It’s a moment that Bailee McCarley will never forget.
She witnessed the reactions of an elderly man, who had difficultly hearing, after he was handed a New Testament Bible and his wife, who had poor eyesight, after she was given a pair of glasses.
“He kissed the Bible over and over, and he kept saying ‘Glorious day,’” the Clemson University family nurse practitioner student said. “I will never forget how happy the couple was. They were crying. They kept saying they were thankful we had come and that God had blessed their day.”
This was just one of many moments Clemson University School of Nursing students witnessed on their medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic. They sacrificed their spring breaks, good connections to wi-fi and American plumbing to spend a week treating patients in hot and dusty rural villages.
Clemson faculty members Stephanie Davis, Jennifer Rice and Misty Seaborn led the trip that was organized by Volunteers in Medical Missions based in Seneca.
Their mission: to serve as many people as possible.
Over the course of four days, they provided care to 674 patients. They treated a variety of illnesses from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, parasitic infections and anemia, as well as joint and back pain and skin infections.
Their team consisted of 13 Clemson undergraduate students, 12 graduate students, three faculty and two physicians, a physician’s assistant, a nurse and a recent Clemson nurse practitioner graduate.
Though they traveled to remote villages, their mission trip was based out of the Solid Rock International Clinic. Each day they traveled to a different rural village: Sosa, El Colegio, Las Yayas de Pondie and La Navajo. For hours each day the students worked alongside other health care professionals to provide needed care.
“It was much harder than I anticipated,” McCarley said. “Though the people were so gracious, I just remember looking out the door and seeing the long line and I wasn’t sure if I could do this.”
McCarley didn’t know a lot of Spanish words, but she knew the patients were thankful.
“Everyone knows what that smile is,” she said. “It hit me. All these things are universal.”
While McCarley and the other nursing graduate students helped diagnose and treat patients, the undergraduate students like Hannah Mulliken worked in triage or the pharmacy and helped educate patients on handwashing, water and food safety and chronic illness management.
Mulliken, a senior nursing student, worked in the pharmacy on one of the days, filling prescriptions with pill packets the students had sorted through and packed a couple weeks before spring break. The Clemson volunteers brought suitcases of donated medical supplies and medications so as not to deplete the Solid Rock International Clinic’s supply. While she enjoyed the work, the best part of the mission trip for her was talking with the patients.
“My favorite part of the trip was working in triage and having the opportunity to interact with the patients and speak to them in Spanish,” Mulliken said.
She said she also enjoyed the few breaks when she and other students had the chance to play ball in the streets with the children.
But she was most inspired by the debriefings with the other health care professionals at the end of each day.
“I was inspired by hearing the providers’ stories. It was neat to see how they came from all over to help these people,” she said.
It was the students’ first time in the Dominican Republic and they experienced a bit of culture shock, Clemson nursing professor Stephanie Davis has been a part of the trip for 13 years and is used to the differences from America. But the one thing she can’t get used to is seeing the impact the trip has on the students.
“It is always amazing to see the students get on the plane to leave for the Dominican Republic and to see them when they get on the plane to return home to the U.S. They are different people,” she said. “There is no possible way to go on one of these medical mission trips and not be impacted by the poverty, lack of health care and poor conditions that exist so close to our borders.”
For McCarley, also a nurse at AnMed Health Medical Center in Anderson, the trip helped open her eyes to the little things that matter to patients. It also inspired her to make more mission trips and have a potential shift in her career after graduation in May.
“It gave me a heart to want to help underprivileged populations,” she said. “Before this trip, going back to school was just about furthering my career, but now it has taken on new meaning. Now I want to help those in need or those who are less fortunate in other countries.”
It was hard for her to leave her children and husband, but McCarley said the trip was worth it and she’s ready to sign up for another one.
“It started a fire in me to help others,” she said.
For Mulliken, the trip peaked her interest because it combined her passion for the Spanish language and culture with nursing, but the trip did more for her than she expected. It confirmed her career plans after graduation in May.
“I always thought I would like to work in a rural clinic serving those who speak Spanish, but now I know I do,” she said. “Then, after three or four years I plan to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner.”
She said the trip made her and other students thankful for what they have in the United States and inspired them to give back.
Not only did the students help people in the Dominican Republic, but the citizens there helped the students as well.
“The students provide health care, but they also demonstrate love, compassion and caring,” Davis said. “We go on this trip with a vision of touching Dominican lives but the Dominican people are so loving and compassionate themselves, that they touch us way more than we do them.”