Whittier College students spent a week of their summer treating hundreds of patients in rural Panama.
Through the College’s chapter of Global Medical Brigades, 13 students traveled to the country’s mountainous Coclé province, where they brought medical and dental care to more than 300 children and adults. In makeshift clinics, they took vital signs, shadowed medical professionals, and provided preventative health education to the community, such as proper nutritional habits, dental care, and exercise.
“It was a really rewarding experience,” said Jasmin Cao ’19, a pre-med student majoring in Biological and Psychological Environmental Factors of Health through the Whittier Scholars Program. The trip was Cao’s second with Global Medical Brigades; last year, she was among a dozen students who brought medical attention and health supplies to Honduras.
But for biology major Carlos Heredia Viteri ’20, the hands-on service project abroad was a first. The rural schools were they set up clinics were—quite literally—a world apart from the hospitals Heredia Viteri was used to volunteering in. Nevertheless, as he provided one-on-one attention to grateful Panamanians, he fell in love with the experience and connected with his patients.
One day, as the tropical summer sun turned up the heat, Heredia Viteri and a fellow volunteer were answering a few families’ questions at the clinic, when they felt inspired to make their day even better.
“There was an ice cream guy passing by and we walked outside and we bought almost the whole cart,” so that they could hand out ice cream to all of the children, Heredia Viteri said. He doesn’t remember what it cost, but it didn’t matter. He returned to the States with not only international, hands-on medical experience, but a personal connection to a community almost 4,000 miles away. “I had one family tell me that if I ever needed a place to stay in Panama, I was always welcome. I have a family in Panama, now. That was so amazing to me.”