MU
Oak Leaves

March 10, 2017

Nicaragua



Students Practice Medicine in Nicaragua


Ciara Knisely

For 20 days in January, 16 Manchester University students and 12 physicians lived and worked in three small villages in Nicaragua where they administered health care to natives living in poverty.

Dr. Jeff Osborne, associate professor of chemistry, headed the Medical Practicum, a January session trip, and succeeded in exposing students not only to the Nicaraguan health care system, but also to the daily lives of indigenous peoples in the Alto Wangki-Bocay region. 

However, the yearly trip doesn’t focus on typical tourist sightseeing. Rather, the students worked side by side with physicians every day in extremely underdeveloped villages, doing things like administering vaccinations, pulling teeth and diagnosing ailments. 

Their journey began in the capital, Managua, and continued with a 12-hour bus ride to the Rio Bocay River. To access the villages from there, the group took dugout canoes on the river, with around four hours travel time to each village, according to junior athletic training major Katie Brown. 

All three villages that the group visited lacked electricity, clean, running water, air-conditioning and students slept in hammocks in small buildings such as schools.

“We lived in schoolhouses, which were not in the best shape, had no windows, and you could always hear chickens being obnoxiously loud at any given moment in the night,” said Andy Giles, junior biology-chemistry major.

Animals also dominated the environment in that region. According to Giles, the men’s living quarters in the first village was even situated right above a family of goats, and undomesticated farm animals ran free in all the villages. 

In each village, the students and physicians spent several days working in a clinic, helping people who may have travelled miles upon miles to receive health care. This gave students the chance to have hands-on experience with physicians while helping others, an invaluable opportunity.

As Jenny Pudlo, junior biology-chemistry major, described, health care in Nicaragua is free—but some may not have the ability to get to a doctor. Pudlo said that a mother in Nicaragua with a dangerously ill child, but so little money that she was reluctant to pay for the boat ride just to start her journey. 

Cases like that of the mother made the students’ work in the three villages even more important. The trip is an attempt to enable the natives living in extreme poverty to be able to help themselves as much as possible, especially when health care may be unattainable. MU’s Medical Practicum is also the only health-care group that visits the three villages of Winah, Amak and Wisuh. 

The group helped an estimated total of 1,400 people, but students have no misconceptions about the experience they received from this trip. 

“I also have a new appreciation for my health, and I am more thankful for the availability to health care we have in the States,” said Lauren Hedges, senior biology-chemistry major. 

Brown found the experience transformative. “We went there to help if we could, but we all changed too,” she said. 

Pudlo agrees. “We were trying to help them, but we learned about ourselves and others in ways we didn’t expect,” she explained, mentioning how children may only have one toy, or a stick with a ball as their form of entertainment. “What I might think is a problem might not be a problem to someone else. There are so many bigger issues.” 

Giles added: “It's a whole lot harder to be upset when you put your problems in perspective and think about what those people are going through.”

Through this trip, Osborne hoped to send the message that humans all over the world are the same, and that health care is a very complicated issue, especially when there may be structural reasons why people live in poverty. 

Because of that, serving others becomes a very important issue, Osborne said. It’s important to help others, as it leads to the development of one’s own best self. “Serving others is essential to the process of becoming yourself and being a human,” he said. 

Pudlo also notes how close the group became. “We didn’t do anything by ourselves, even taking baths in the river or going to the latrine,” she said, remembering the family-like atmosphere they developed. 

The group also saw many afflictions that are common to developed countries but could easily kill someone in a developing nation like Nicaragua, according to Brown. On the other hand, Nicaraguans also experience diseases that have long been eradicated in the developed world, Osborne said. 

Before the group left for Nicaragua, they also had to undergo a series of vaccinations and treatments to assure that they wouldn’t contract any obscure diseases while visiting, though Osborne assures that it was just a precautionary measure.

The January session class is offered every year as Pass/Not Pass and all students are eligible. For more information on participating in the next Medical Practicum trip, students can go to medicalpracticum.org/. The deadline to sign up is March 30.