Video: Physician Assistant Students Deliver Much-Needed Medical Care in Panama

By Purnell T. Cropper | June 26, 2013

In May, a joint-effort between Arcadia University’s Physician Assistant program and the local community provided 305 Panamanians with much-needed treatment for infectious diseases, diabetes, and other ailments via a mobile medical clinic.

“The learning experience we encountered in Panama cannot be accomplished in the classroom,” says Dr. Michael Huber, assistant professor and academic coordinator of the Physician Assistant program. Huber’s team went to Panama as part of Global Brigades, the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization, which serves more than 10,000 patients in more than 20 villages in Panama. “To work side-by-side with my students and see them flourish as clinicians by applying the skills we have taught them is an amazing experience I will always cherish.”

The program gave 19 Arcadia students an opportunity to engage in hands-on service learning as they navigated providing healthcare in a different cultural context. The team consisted of 26 volunteers, including two Arcadia faculty members, two emergency physician volunteers from Abington Hospital, a nurse and two community healthcare professionals, which allowed students to shadow professional clinicians and hone their diagnostic skills.

“Establishing a clinic in Panama meant more than ‘just’ treating patients,” says Andrew Lingbloom, PA-S, Christiana Campus. “It meant a meeting of cultures, trading Western medicine for indigenous remedies and a priceless lesson in culturally competent healthcare.”

The team provided various types of medical care during their one-week stay in Panama’s Darién province, including treatments for high blood pressure, diabetes, seasonal allergies, dental care, infectious diseases, and conditions specific to Panama. The group also created electronic medical records to assist future Global Brigades teams in continuing treatment and tracking community health trends as they visit the communities every three to four months.

“I was humbled by the Panamanian people, some of whom marched several hours to receive care at our clinic, yet waited patiently as we offered broken Spanish and warm smiles, doing our best to record vitals, take histories [and] diagnose disease,” recalls Joel Burgos, the 2014 physician assistant class president. “My fellow brigadiers, my patients and the experiences I encountered have taught me not only compassionate care, but human interaction that transcends language, age and disposition.”

As part of their efforts, the team raised more than $46,000 in funds and more than $10,000 in supplies. They hope that this trip will serve as the basis for an annual medical mission trip for Arcadia’s physician assistant students.

“This trip restored my passion for helping people, especially those that are underserved, after a long year in the PA classroom,” says Kirsten Marciniak, PA-S and Dual Degree Public Health, Glenside Campus. “I am now ready and excited for the next phase of my PA education and look forward to using my passion here in the U.S. with other populations that need our care while on rotations and then later, wherever this amazing career takes me!”