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Dominican Republic mission trip

Ashland University students spend an 'impactful' spring break in the Dominican Republic

Published on March 28, 2024
Ashland University
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Dealing with eye deformities, foot wounds and pus-filled lumps on peoples’ bodies doesn’t sound like a very fun spring break.

For Ashland University student Bethany Graham, it was the most enriching and inspiring spring break she has ever taken.

“It was without a doubt the most impactful way I could’ve imagined spending spring break,” Graham said about a mission trip to the Dominican Republic from Saturday, March 2 to Sunday, March 10.

Being part of AU’s Physicians Assistant (PA) Program explains why Graham enjoyed not only diagnosing a variety of conditions in patients, but also recording patient histories and working in a pharmacy.

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Pharmacy at the medical clinic in Juan Tomas, Dominican Republic

 

“The most fascinating thing to me was being able to diagnose a heart murmur in one of the Dominicans, because we just covered cardiology recently in school and this was very fulfilling to know that I understood it enough to participate in practice,” Graham said. “I also watched one of the nursing students take care of a giant foot ulcer that covered most of the patient’s dorsal foot and was deep enough that we could see the tendons.

“It was also such a great learning experience to treat some severely hypertensive (high blood pressure) patients,” she added, “a patient with an eye deformity called a pterygium (a raised, fleshy growth on the eye) that I was able to initially recognize and some children with pinworms (parasites).”

 

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Bethany Graham, Heather Guiley and Ciara Janssen

Graham was joined by two other PA students (Heather Guiley and Ciara Janssen) and some AU nursing students, as well as an AU faculty member, AU alumni and community members working in health-care careers and a former faculty member of the Schar College of Nursing and Health Sciences – a group of about 20.

They volunteered for four days at a medical clinic in the village of Juan Tomas, treating about 1,000 patients.

“We got to save so many lives,” said Layne Stone, one of the nursing students, “not only help them physically but really connect them to God and speak the Gospel to them.

“The whole trip was just amazing,” Stone added. “The community there felt like family to me, and I will forever be grateful for how welcoming and loving they were without even knowing me.”

In addition to the medical work, the trip also included faith-based opportunities. It was run by the organization Partners in Christ, which, according to its website, is “developing Christendom across Latin American through partnership with domestic and international individuals and organizations, supporting discipleship, education, health care, as well as economic and community development.”

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Church in Juan Tomas, Dominican Republic

 

“On Sunday and Wednesday, we attended the local church, and there were also opportunities throughout the week to help in their Fountain of Life Christian School, which I loved doing also,” said Graham, who added that when they weren’t working at the clinic, helping at the school or attending the church, they were having meals, playing games and enjoying conversations with Dominican families.

“This trip definitely reminded me why I’m going into health care,” Graham added, “and reignited that passion, being able to serve these underserved populations and share the love of Christ as we worked.”

Having Amity Arnold, AU faculty member, on the trip was extremely helpful, Graham said.

“I attend classes with Professor Arnold multiple times per week since last semester,” Graham said. “As an academic professor who also works clinically, she has that finesse of both working well with the patients and teaching students at the same time; it was due to this that I prioritized working by her side the most throughout our medical work.”

Arnold said she enjoyed spending time with both PA and nursing students away from the classroom, getting to know each student better as a person and catching a glimpse of the kind of health-care professional they are becoming.

“Seeing their education and training put into action and seeing things ‘click’ for them was very rewarding,” Arnold said.

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Checking a patient's blood pressure

 

Former AU faculty member, Lisa Young, an acute care nurse practitioner at University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center in Ashland, led the trip.

“She was an absolute phenomenal leader,” Graham said about Young. “As the president of the Partners in Christ Board of Directors, and having hosted this trip so many times, she was very knowledgeable, organized, prepared, passionate, had the necessary connections and was easy to work with.”

Young said she was very thankful for the students who were on the trip. 

"Most think of spring break as a time to relax to get ready for the last eight weeks," Young said. "These students worked very hard when the clinic was open and several nights we did not finish until 7 p.m."

A visit by Young to a PA class got Graham excited about the trip.

“Several of the other students and I desire to work oversees in medical missions in the future and, for me, this trip was the perfect way to bridge that gap,” Graham said. “I had been on mission trips in the past, but this one specifically provided that initial medicine taste as well as guidance from my instructor throughout the trip. So, all in all, it was an opportunity too great to pass up.”

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Taking vital signs