SUU Students Improve Rural Health in Dominican Republic

Published: January 06, 2016 | Read Time: 2 minutes

SUU Students Improve Rural Health in Dominican RepublicFor eight days in December, 11 Southern Utah University students experienced first-hand the urgent need for medical care and the value of service in a third-world county. SUU students in the Rural Health Scholars (RHS) program traveled to the Dominican Republic Dec. 11-19, setting up and staffing rural health clinics throughout the poverty-stricken country.

Working with Solid Rock International, a non-profit organization, the students established four clinics and distributed medical supplies including cough medication, nasal sprays, ibuprofen, eye drops, vitamins, and toothbrushes, while serving a total of 554 patients.

Each patient the students saw had their blood pressure checked, spoke with a Dominican doctor, and received hygiene products and vitamins/medications depending on their health condition. RHS students specifically helped greet patients, weigh babies, take blood pressure readings, note patient illness, shadow doctors, dispense medications, and interact with the local children.

RHS Assistant Director Karen Ganss was the staff advisor on the trip and was “extremely proud of the SUU students’ ability to show care and empathy for the Dominican patients,” she said. 

Dominicans face a lack of clean drinking water, little knowledge of common health practices and the inability to pay to see a doctor. They also inhabit homes without electricity or running water, and suffer from poor diets. Due to these impediments, there is high demand for free health services for rural Dominican individuals.

Ganss said she was amazed that although the Dominicans have every reason to be angry and uninviting based on their inhospitable living environment, they are anything but that. “The common comment I gathered from students revolved around the true happiness and kindness of the Dominicans. I’ve never been around people who were so happy and grateful for the services we provided. They were unbelievably thankful and loving toward others,” she said.

“We showed them proper health care and gave them medications, but they gave us more than that. They renewed our sense of kindness, service and care toward other human beings,” Ganss said. “The Dominicans reignited my passion for human connection, talking face-to-face, helping a neighbor when in need, and listening to others.” 

Cultural immersion trips expose students to medically underserved communities domestically and abroad. During these trips, students gain valuable health care experience, engage in patient exposure and develop language skills while also shadowing physicians.

The Rural Health Scholars program at Southern Utah University assists students in becoming successful applicants to medical, nursing, podiatry, dental, pharmacy, and other graduate-level and allied health professions programs. Student applications are strengthened through a regimen of classes, seminars, community service, job shadowing, research and advisement.

For more information about the Utah Center for Rural Health programs, contact Karen Ganss, RHS assistant director, at 435-865-8660 or visit Utah Center for Rural Health

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