A group from University of Lynchburg’s physician assistant medicine program recently spent a week providing medical care to more than 400 people in the Dominican Republic.
In their third-annual medical mission in the Caribbean nation, about 35 students helped patients with issues both minor and major — everything from common viral infections to severe dehydration.
Although this was her third time in the clinic, it was still a new experience for Minal Patel ’17 PA, ’18 DMSc. On her first two trips, she was a master’s degree student just beginning to learn how to practice medicine. This year, she is a fully licensed PA and a doctoral fellow earning her medical science degree at Lynchburg. This allowed her to teach as well as continue learning.
“It was only two short years ago that I was in the same shoes as the current first-year PA students,” she said. “The opportunity to precept them showed me how much personal and professional growth I have undergone over these past few years in the University of Lynchburg PA program.”
Patel was one of seven PA students to attend the 2018 clinic in the Dominican Republic while in the Doctor of Medical Science program. The new degree program equips PAs to take more leadership roles in medicine. The trip to the Dominican Republic was one important part of that transition.
“It was still a learning experience, but it also provided the infrastructure to transition to a leadership role in the health care team,” said Taylor Lavery ’17 PA, ’18 DMSc, another doctoral fellow.
Lavery is completing her clinical fellowship in emergency medicine, giving her significant hands-on experience with using electrocardiogram and ultrasound devices — both of which the Lynchburg group took to the Dominican Republic. Working in the clinic allowed Lavery to continue practicing the use of those tools while also teaching the master’s degree students some of what she has learned in her fellowship.
The PA Medicine students worked as teams to assess patients and then present cases to DMSc fellows, who worked with program founder Dr. Jeremy Welsh to formulate plans for treating the patients.
Seeing them serve patients together was gratifying to Dr. Welsh. “These are the moments in an academic career that stay with you forever,” he said. “I can see the passion and dedication within each of them as they provide compassionate care to those in need. I have been truly blessed to work with each of the students and proud to watch them grow and mature into medical colleagues that I would trust my family’s life with. This is why I build and teach and advocate for the PA profession.”
Megan Pennisi ’18 PA said it was a challenge to help patients speaking a different language, but this enhanced the learning experience. It helped the students develop their skills for communicating with patients, making diagnoses, and providing treatment.
Despite the language barrier, the experience was rewarding, professionally and emotionally. “Their smiles are the exact reason why we facilitate this trip and volunteer countless hours of development, planning, and actual service,” Pennisi said. “There were several times when we couldn’t even understand the words they were speaking but we knew exactly what they meant when they grabbed our hands and looked at us with eyes full of tears from overwhelming joy and relief.”
Patel said the clinic provided a welcome break from the faster-paced medical environment in the U.S. “It reminds us of the reason we decided to pursue medicine, which is to help, heal, and serve those in need,” she said.
Lavery agreed. “This opportunity continues to be a life-altering experience that feeds my passion for providing care to the underserved both at home and abroad,” she said, “and I hope to continue for many years to come.”