Honors students use their medical skills to serve communities in Mexico

Honors College students traveled to Puerto Peñasco over spring break to serve the local community and shadow physicians. Contributed photo.

When midterms ended and spring break rolled around, a group of Grand Canyon University Honors College students weren't thinking of heading to the beach. There was only one way they wanted to spend their break: by taking a medical mission trip.

Twenty-six Honors College students traveled to Baja and Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, for seven days, where they partnered with Well Child International to bring medical and dental help to the local communities, put their health education to practice, and shadow nurses and doctors for hands-on experience.

Students practiced measuring vitals on local residents.

“I jumped at the opportunity to do it because my past two trips have been fantastic and really fulfilling,” shared alum Avery Carbajal, who helped organize this year’s trip.

“This trip is about the overall experience of serving the community, learning about the culture there and being willing to help out with whatever is needed.”

Every day GCU students visited different neighborhoods to perform health surveys and get a census of how well medical care is established in the community. Because a lot of families don’t have access to government medical benefits, transportation or even job opportunities, it is a common struggle for them to afford medical care, added Carbajal.

At the end of the week, GCU students and Well Child International set up clinic days where they provided those families a chance to be treated by physicians, share medical concerns and receive necessary medicine.

They formed triage groups, took vitals and patient histories, which also gave them a chance to receive hands-on experience and practice the material they have been studying in their GCU classes.

A group of GCU students watched and assisted a dentist as she treated a patient.

“This is a lot of people’s favorite part,” Carbajal said. “You are the one interacting with patients, taking vitals, treating them, and you get to practice Spanish. It is where you feel like you are doing the most impactful work.”

The trip was especially memorable for sophomore Jacob Friesen, who got to witness and practice dental work on patients for the first time.

In addition to medical treatment, the clinics also provided dental check-ups and procedures for the residents. Friesen assisted dentists, sterilized tools, held suction cups and performed cleanings.

“We went to a PT clinic, and I was helping massage a guy’s face that had paralysis on his face, while someone else on the team had to help with an ultrasound,” he said. “This is something we would never be able to do back home at this age.”

By working alongside nurses and doctors, GCU students saw everything from surgeries to births. It gave them a fresh outlook on how the health-care system is set up beyond the U.S., the type of treatments other cultures practice, and how the healthcare workers adapt with limited access to medicine and basic supplies.

A GCU student played with a little girl in between helping patients.

“The feeling of helping someone and working together with others is a universal skill that I will be very grateful to have one day," Friesen said. Seeing how they are unable to afford treatment inspired me to be able to help people more.”

Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli has watched this mission transform over the years, when it started off with just 10 students participating. This spring break, the college sent out its biggest group yet and is hoping for a similar outcome for the second trip to Baja, Mexico and Puerto Rico at the beginning of summer break.

“The continued and growing interest of our honors students to serve both their local and global community is a testament to the humble, servant-hearted students we have here at GCU,” said Naegeli. “I am overwhelmed by their desire and commitment to serve through their vocational calling in our most vulnerable and underserved communities.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

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GCU News: Students at leadership event inspired to break barriers

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