In March, 24 students and professionals from the USF International Health Service Collaborative (IHSC) embarked on a service-learning trip to the rural mountain town of Chicá, Panama, located about two hours away from Panama City.
The organization’s interdisciplinary focus is fueled by the valuable skill sets of its members. This year’s mission trip included volunteers from the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health. The team’s academic knowledge and altruistic spirit, paired with community experts led to the implementation of several successful projects for now and the development of sustainable initiatives for the future.
“There was a strong, shared sense of dedication in this year’s group,” said Kayla Mackanin, IHSC co-president and a PharmD candidate. “This year’s volunteers brought a diverse set of skills and backgrounds which set the stage for synergy—we all shared common values, as advocates of world health. When we come together in this way, it enhances the quality of services we can provide and strengthens relationships with the community.”
Trip members linked with Panamanian doctors Nydia Flores and Gabriel Rebollón to execute a two-day clinic. USF Health medical residents consulted with more than 100 patients. They sat down and reviewed the patients’ health status prior to seeing the physician and receiving medications. College of Public Health students complemented this effort by facilitating health education activities and dispensing hundreds of hygiene supplies to patients and their families.
The health education initiatives culminated with a one-day event at the town’s only primary school. Trip members used interactive activities to engage students and demonstrate the importance of hand washing, dental hygiene, environmental awareness, and good nutrition/exercise routines. Volunteers also partnered with local teachers and students to create a meaningful mural emphasizing the community’s values and their relation to global society and personal wellbeing.
“Although we brought tons of supplies and delivered really great services, this project is more than just a short-term solution,” said Shivani Gogna, a public health student and IHSC’s public relations director. “It is about working with the community’s existing infrastructure and capacities to address their pertinent health concerns and developing relevant and long-lasting solutions that fit the community’s needs.”
One of the most innovative parts of this year’s service-learning project was the integration of student research. IHSC members collected quantitative and qualitative data on water quality, which entailed water testing through a mobile lab and an assessment of the community’s perspectives on this topic. The data will drive future health projects that give back to the residents of Chicá.
“Working directly with the town representative, school director, and other valuable stakeholders in Chicá is integral to the development of the collaboration with USF Health,” said Stephanie Holdener, a third-year medical student and IHSC co-president.
“We’ve all learned so much. The USF Health delegation looks forward to cultivating this relationship and really seeing how we can integrate community needs and desires with innovative and effective health initiatives in the years to come.”
The International Health Service Collaborative is guided by a team of dedicated advisors: Jaime Corvin, PhD, USF College of Public Health, Department of Global Health; John Sinnott, MD, Morsani College of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine; and, Lynette Menezes, PhD, USF Health International and Morsani College of Medicine.
Funding for IHSC service-learning trips comes largely from fundraisers held throughout the year. Additionally, board members solicit donations for the clinic’s medications, health education materials, and other supplies/equipment. This year, 12 IHSC members were named Patel Scholars through the Internal Medicine Department, thus allowing for their trip costs to be partially funded.
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The following USF Health students participated in the IHSC service learning trip to Chicá. They were joined in country by Estefania Garcia, Luis Ivan Serrano Guerra, Elsa Rueda, Carlos Rovira, and Priscila Acevedo from the Universidad de Panama Medical School.
College of Public Health
College of Pharmacy
Morsani College of Medicine
College of Nursing
Story and photos courtesy of Shivani Gogna, USF College of Public Health