Interprofessional collaboration in Nicaragua


Kaylyn Chandler

Can a short medical mission trip possibly make a difference? I used to wonder that myself until I listened to a presentation by my peers who had returned recently from a week-long medical mission trip to Nicaragua.

My initial reason to take advantage of this opportunity was the chance to visit another country and experience a different culture. Little did I know that it would be a life-changing experience.

For the past eight years, Shenandoah University has encouraged interprofessional collaboration by offering students in graduate health care programs the chance to travel to Nicaragua to apply the skills and knowledge learned in a traditional classroom setting to real-life situations. Under the supervision of licensed health care professionals, students interact with patients in a supportive learning environment.

It's all worth it

In May 2013, after completing my second year of pharmacy school, I participated in a medical mission trip to Leon, Nicaragua, along with 48 other Shenandoah student pharmacists, physical therapy students, physician assistant students, and practicing health care professionals. The emphasis of the trip was general medicine, women's health, and oral health.

Chandler shares time with children
at the clinic.

No one is totally prepared to visit a third world country. Going to Nicaragua involved cold showers, extreme heat, constantly reapplying bug spray, and a never-ending language barrier. All those challenges were well worth enduring just to see a five-year-old Nicaraguan child's joy when he ran up to us with excitement after going home to wash his hair and brush his teeth. He wanted us to smell his hair because he never had the luxury of shampoo or toothpaste until we gave them to him.

Although the days were long and the temperatures were hot (well over 100 degrees most of the time), I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world. It was really enlightening to have a chance to work with and learn from all of the health professionals both within the scope of pharmacy as well as the other professional disciplines.

On a typical day, we arrived at our clinic site around 8:00 am. Most of the time patients had already been in line since 7:00 am. The patients were triaged and seen by a student physician. If they were prescribed a medication, they were sent to the pharmacy station. We had one table for dispensing the medications and all the medicines were stored in suitcases on the floor. Although we had a translator to help us counsel patients, I tried my best to learn as much Spanish as I could so I could speak to the patients directly.

One day, the student pharmacists switched roles with the student physician assistants, so while they learned to dispense medications and counsel patients, we triaged, diagnosed, and presented our patient plans to the supervising physician. Throughout the 4 days of clinic, we served more than 1,100 Nicaraguan patients. It was amazing to see how patient and thankful they were for our services. Many of them waited in line all day (sometimes until 4:00 pm) in the scorching sun so they could be seen. Every patient was given a toothbrush and toothpaste as well as soap or shampoo.

Back again

What I thought would be a once in a lifetime experience turned into an opportunity to return to Nicaragua. I will head back there before I begin my APPEs. I look forward to applying the additional knowledge I learned since completing all of my therapeutics courses. This will give me an even greater chance to serve the people of Nicaragua and collaborate with other health care disciplines. So can a week-long medical mission make a difference? Absolutely!