Students, Alumni, Faculty Promote Health and Wellness in Belize

By RetterJ | August 9, 2017

Students, alumni, and faculty from Arcadia’s Physical Therapy, Genetic Counseling, Public Health, Physician Assistant, Education, and Counseling programs continued their mental health, physical wellness, and education efforts in Belize from July 15 to 26.

This year’s trip overlapped with Camp Starfish, a nonprofit, two-week camp that supports Belizean children with special needs. Eager to raise awareness and promote acceptance across the island, faculty and alumni engaged with campers through interactive activities, while budding physical therapists examined gross motor and fine motor skills, offered individual evaluations, and educated families on physical disabilities.

Community outreach projects also included educational programming focused on sexual health, preconception, nutrition, mental health first aid, and teacher development. Students and faculty hosted a walk-in physical therapy clinic, provided home visits for persons with stroke, and helped build a shelter for victimized children and women.  

Steering a particularly successful aspect of the agenda, Public Health and Physician Assistant students and faculty offered community diabetes screening, connecting individuals who were unaware of their status to the local medical clinic. Participants were able to test more than 100 people for diabetes and hypertension in three days.

This year, a $25,000 anonymous donation alleviated financial barriers for participants, while a grant from the Marie-Louise and Eugene Jackson International Fund for Student and Faculty Development reduced expenses for eight health science students. Additionally, volunteers received support from a Magistro Family Fund and Dean of the College of Health Sciences Dr. Rebecca Craik, while Sunbreeze Hotel and the National Emergency Management Organization provided free conference space for community education events in San Pedro.  

Such funding is crucial for volunteers to achieve three primary goals: partnering with medical and educational communities in Belize to address identified needs, developing students’ professional competencies, and facilitating interprofessional education to improve patient outcomes.

“Interprofessional education is the glue that holds this trip together and makes it unique,” said Dr. Karen Sawyer, assistant professor and director of Experiential Learning in the Department of Physical Therapy. “As students learn about other professions, trust and respect grows. We spend 12 days immersed in one another’s lives and work.”

A prime example: In Belize, mental health counselors led the Arcadia team through debriefing sessions that allowed participants to share their experiences and learn the value and practice of facilitated dialogue. The ability to encourage meaningful conversations about mental and physical health is, in Dr. Sawyer’s opinion, a necessary skill that transcends the Counseling field.

“All students have something significant to offer,” said Dr. Sawyer. “Now, we have an even greater sense of what the island would like from us moving forward, and we’re refining our offerings in the hopes that a follow-up trip will happen.”