If you’re from the United States, you’ve probably been going to the doctor regularly since before you can remember. While the physician shortage still plagues rural areas, healthcare is generally accessible to Americans through traditional doctor visits, telehealth services, or even driving to a more populous city. But imagine living on an island where doctors, nurses, dentists, and paramedics were in severely short supply. This is the reality for the kids at St. Benedict’s Orphanage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Because of infrequent healthcare visits, the children there have an understandable apprehension toward scrub-clad professionals.
Last month, students from Central Georgia Technical College and Trinity School of Medicine collaborated with student-led service organization Operation: Healing Smiles to show the children at St. Benedict’s that healthcare workers need not be feared. They were able to mitigate this mass case of “white coat syndrome” with the help of very special patients: teddy bears.
At this fittingly-titled “Teddy Bear Clinic”, children would choose a teddy bear and then get their new friend medically assessed and treated. Through this activity, the children saw how conditions like a broken arm or irregular heartbeat are treated. They were even given a demonstration on teeth cleaning and how to brush properly to avoid cavities. According to JoBen Rivera-Thompson of Central Georgia Technical College, this event showed the kids of St. Benedicts that “they don’t have to be afraid of healthcare workers and that doctors, nurses, dentists, and paramedics are there to take care of you so you can be healthy.”
Trinity School of Medicine shares a close partnership with Central Georgia Technical College, where Trinity students benefit by utilizing CGTC’s state-of-the-art medical simulation lab in Warner Robins, Georgia. CGTC students also benefit from this partnership by having the opportunity to participate in global healthcare experiences. Just last month in January 2023, thirteen healthcare profession students from Central Georgia Technical College enjoyed a 10-day study abroad experience in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
This trip marked CGTC’s first technical-focused service-learning study abroad experience and the group was comprised of 4 dental hygiene students, 2 paramedicine students, and 7 nursing students. CGTC told us that they had three main goals for this trip: community outreach, training local healthcare workers in best practices, and volunteering at the hospital and healthcare clinics. JoBen Rivera-Thompson, one of the trip’s coordinators, said that the goal was to have students learn through service opportunities.
“We wanted them to work alongside healthcare professionals and get a hands-on experience, participating in what similar professionals are doing on the island and how it’s different or the same. The population of St. Vincent is about 110,000, which is about the size of the service area in Warner Robins, so there was a like-for-like exchange of how to serve rural communities with a variety of healthcare needs.”
Thanks to the CGTC Foundation, its Global Initiatives Scholarship Fund, and recruitment of community partnerships, most of the students on the trip were able to receive some sort of scholarship funding. Most notably, nursing student Hilary Bretz received the Gilman-McCain Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Named after the late U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the John S. McCain International Scholarship for Military Families provides awards for child and spousal dependents of active military personnel to study or intern abroad in credit-bearing programs. Bretz, whose husband is currently in the Air Force and stationed at Robins Air Force Base, was CGTC’s first-ever Gilman-McCain recipient. “Being a military spouse means my family could be stationed throughout the world, so I need to be ready to volunteer or work in other cultures,” she said.
During the students’ time in St. Vincent, they participated in training workshops at the St. Vincent Community College, teaching Basic Life Support, phlebotomy, and IV techniques to nursing instructors. They also had the opportunity to volunteer at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital and work in several of the different wards, from the ER to maternity. In addition, the paramedicine students were able to participate in “ride-alongs” in ambulances with local emergency responders.
Trinity is excited to continue to support CGTC’s global healthcare initiatives and we look forward to seeing how these opportunities allow students to serve, learn, and grow into skilled and knowledgeable healthcare providers.