University Takes its Global Medical Brigade to Panama
By: Andrew Phan, School of Pharmacy, Class of 2013
On Jan. 7, student volunteers from across the University of Maryland (UM), a St. Joseph's Medical Center pharmacist, and a nurse practitioner from the University of Maryland Medical System traveled to Panama City, Panama to provide essential health services as part of the University's Global Medical Brigade program. During the weeklong trip, the team of 29 worked alongside Panamanian doctors, dentists, and pharmacists to establish temporary health clinics in rural communities, providing health and dental care to more than 400 Panamanian men, women, and children.
Global Medical Brigade clinics seek to bridge the gap between the first-world luxuries of Panama City and the third-world poverty of rural Panama. Since 2004, Global Brigades has mobilized thousands of university students and professionals through nine skill-based service programs to improve quality of life in under resourced communities.
With two previous brigade trips to Honduras under her belt, third-year pharmacy student Sheetal Patil was well prepared to lead this trip to Panama, where the Global Brigades program is still in its infancy. "We worked closely with the Global Brigades in-country staff to ensure a safe and successful brigade," she says.
The UM Global Medical Brigade team traveled four hours outside of Panama City to the communities of Santa Fe, Agua Fria, and Arimay within the Darien Province, where isolated villages struggle to provide the essentials a developed country takes for granted. During house visits, local families described simple diets of rice and meat, daily difficulties in obtaining clean water, and limited availability of health care.
One Panamanian mother shared her experience of traveling to a local clinic-a two-hour bus ride away-at 4 a.m. to wait in line just to make an appointment for two weeks later. "Panama provides free public health care, but the lack of doctors and hospital beds in rural provinces is devastating for those communities," Patil says.
At the UM clinic, patients rotated between five stations: triage, medical, dental, pharmacy, and charlas ("chats"). UM volunteers spent time in each station directing patients, gathering patient histories, taking vitals, shadowing doctors and dentists, filling prescriptions, counseling patients on medication use, and providing health education during charlas.
Clinicians and volunteers regularly moved station-to-station to communicate issues and discuss complications. This arrangement allowed for a completely interdisciplinary approach to health care that provided effective diagnosis and therapy, especially with the limited resources available on the brigade.
"Global Medical Brigades provided volunteers the unique opportunity to learn in an interdisciplinary setting, to apply the clinical knowledge they learned in the classroom, and to experience an exciting foreign culture," says Patil.
The UM chapter of Global Medical Brigades has conducted three successful brigades and is planning a fourth for the summer of 2012.