Clinical Service in Guatemala Impacts Future Health Professionals

By Caitlin T. Burns | November 19, 2019

In summer 2019, Kirby Edsill ’20M, PA and Daniel McCole ’20DPT helped provide medical services to underserved communities in Guatemala as part of Arcadia University’s Physician Assistant and Physical Therapy programs. Edsill’s and McCole’s international journeys not only led to professional growth but also improved lives in the communities they served.

Clinical rotation in Gualán

Edsill decided to pursue a career in medicine after she participated in medical service trips to Haiti during high school. Eventually, this vocation became an important milestone on her path toward a Master of Medical Science. 

“I applied to Arcadia’s PA program after finding out that they offered several international rotations as part of their clinical curriculum, among other things,” said Edsill. “If Arcadia’s clinical team thinks it will be a good fit, you will have an international rotation scheduled for your clinical year.” 

During a four-week clinical rotation in Gualán, Guatemala, Edsill served in the emergency room at the municipality’s Center of Health, where she, under the supervision of a physician, helped treat patients with a range of ailments from a small laceration and general pain management to significant repair from a machete wound.

“A few of the more acute patients needed medications and medical care that were only available by a long ambulance ride away,” said Edsill. “This was eye-opening, as it is a vast difference from the health care we are exposed to back in the States. I feel increasingly lucky to have access to all medical services needed at my fingertips, both as a patient and a future provider. Yet I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to see how those with the bare minimum are still able to provide care.”

Although the linguistic barriers sometimes presented communication challenges for Edsill, she quickly concluded that “compassion is a universal language.”


Service learning in Teculután

Like Edsill, McCole chose Arcadia because of the University’s commitment to providing future health professionals with global learning opportunities and diverse clinical experiences in various settings.

“The Physical Therapy service project in Guatemala played a big factor in my decision to come to Arcadia,” said McCole. “It drew me to the program because I knew I could treat a variety of patients in another country.”

McCole spent two weeks in Teculután, Zacapa, a mountainous rural area where he began each day at 8 a.m with underserved children, families, and seniors at community centers and medical clinics. In partnership with the nonprofit Hearts in Motion (HIM), McCole and other members of the Arcadia PT cohort worked side-by-side with licensed physical therapists at the 17-acre Gualán Center. They offered care to foster children at HIM’s Reece Children’s Home as well as older adults at the Senior Center while integrating musculoskeletal and neuromuscular therapy. In response to the community’s needs, McCole traveled to nearby clinics and visited homebound patients.

During the two-week project, McCole was able to see the difference he made through numerous follow-up appointments. “I could see how patients followed recommended exercises, and I was able to track their improvements over time,” he said.

For McCole, the Arcadia service project in Guatemala and the community he served now inspires him in unanticipated ways.

“I learned much more than I ever expected, especially from the individual interactions with my patients,” said McCole. “They were so appreciative, kind, and positive, despite their hardships.”