By Kate Hunger
Volunteering at mobile health clinics near sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic taught Dominic Rangel lessons that will serve him throughout his career.
One lesson is to be grateful for what he has. The other is to focus. "I think it's important to slow down and focus on one person at a time, because although you are going to have a bunch of patients throughout the day, there is only one patient you can help at that moment and that is the patient sitting right in front of you," he said.
Rangel was one of four third-year Physical Therapy students who joined students from the Long School of Medicine to provide health care services to people in inland villages, or bateyes, near the sugar cane fields.
Michael Geelhoed, D.P.T., OCS, MTC, associate professor of physical therapy and director of clinical education, accompanied the PT students for the weeklong trip in June. The medical students spend three weeks there and conducted a public health survey project in addition to working in the clinics.
The PT students worked with 184 patients over five days at the five bateyes, an increase from the number they saw last summer, Geelhoed said. Pain in the lower back and between the shoulder blades were among the most common conditions treated.
Rangel recalled one man who came into the clinic hunched over and limping. He told Rangel that his back was hurting, and he hadn't been able to work for almost a week.
"'My family needs me to get back to work, and I really need you to help me,'" Rangel recalled the man telling him.
Rangel discovered the man's spine was misaligned and provided effective treatment based on what he has learned in the classroom.
"He literally jumped off the table, stood up and gave me the biggest smile, bent over and touched his toes, gave me a fist bump, and you could see it in his eyes: 'OK I'm ready to go!'"
PT student Melinda Fountain, a former math teacher who is fulfilling her dream of becoming a physical therapist, said she was moved to tears by the ecstatic reaction of a patient to the exercise and stretch she suggested to ease his back pain.
"That one thing we instructed him to do made all the difference in his pain," she said.
In addition to giving students a firsthand global health experience, the trip also offered interprofessional insights. The PT and medical students met before the trip during the required global health course and were able to learn more about each other's professions in a clinical setting. Fountain appreciated having the opportunity to witness the breadth of the medical students' role.
"It was rewarding to see the whole process together," she said.