Nursing students humbled by volunteer work in Guatemala

Published 12.16.2022

Nursing & Health Sciences
Student News
Faculty & Staff

Five Pennsylvania College of Technology nursing students and their instructor recently stepped away from the familiar environs of the college’s laboratories and clinical rotations in local health care facilities to help provide care to a medically underserved community in Central America.

The group, in the Global Healthcare Explorations course, traveled to Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala, in late October. There, they joined volunteers from Glens Falls (New York) Medical Mission, which operates a one-week medical clinic in the community every six months. Because of COVID-19, the October trip marked the first time the clinic had operated since Fall 2019.

Students explained that, for many in the rural area, health care is difficult to access, so the clinics present a valuable opportunity. They met several patients who had walked miles from the surrounding countryside for their appointments.

Pennsylvania College of Technology nursing students join their instructor, Christine Kavanagh, and chaperone Theresa Moff, a pediatric nurse practitioner for UPMC, in front of the pediatrics unit at a weeklong medical clinic in Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala. From left: Kylee D. Butz, of Lawrenceville; Madison T. McClelland, of Columbia Cross Roads; Kavanagh; Maci N. Ilgen, of Spring Mills; Moff; Jordan Specht, of Frederick, Maryland; and Jesse D. Laird V, of Chambersburg. (Photo provided)“There was a line of patients every day when we arrived,” said Kylee D. Butz, of Lawrenceville. She said the patients greeted them, excited for their turn to see the health care professionals.

On their first day in Guatemala, students helped to set up the clinic in an agricultural college, with spaces for triage, dental, women’s health, pediatrics, general medicine, pharmacy, psychological care, eye care and nutrition counseling.

In triage, the nursing students checked vital signs, including blood sugar and blood pressure levels, asked the patients about their primary concerns and determined which specialty they needed to see first.

All women of child-bearing age visited women’s health. For many who were pregnant, this would be their only prenatal doctor’s visit, and students got to be on-hand as some received their first ultrasound and learned the gender of their baby.

In pediatrics, they measured children’s height and weight and provided fluoride varnishes to help protect children’s teeth.

In nutrition counseling, explained Jordan Specht, of Frederick, Maryland, parents were taught about the value of fruits and vegetables – which cost more in local stores than chips and soda – as well as nutrient-dense peanut butter and black beans. To make black beans more appealing, they supplied a spice blend and accompanying soup recipe provided by students in the Sustainability of Food Systems course, taught by Chef Michael J. Ditchfield, instructor of hospitality management/culinary arts.

The clinic saw about 300 patients each day. In all specialties, the students saw the health effects of low income and housing conditions: Among them were malnutrition, financial anxiety, and asthma or other breathing issues that stemmed from cooking indoors over open flames.

“Overall, the most impactful moment while in Guatemala was how thankful all the patients were,” said Maci N. Ilgen, of Spring Mills. “Just getting someone’s blood pressure, they thought it was the best thing in the world just because someone was actually caring for them. … Those are the small things we tend to take for granted living here in the United States.”

Madison T. McClelland, of Columbia Cross Roads, called the experience humbling, adding that returning to everyday Pennsylvania life – where access to a clean glass of water and other “necessities” are a given – was challenging.

“They were so happy with so little,” said Jesse D. Laird V, of Chambersburg. “Some were the most contented people I’ve ever met.”

“The world of nursing has inspired me to never stop giving,” Ilgen added. “There are so many people in the world that need care but cannot receive it. As a nurse, I have the ability to care for people every day.”

The students were joined by Christine B. Kavanagh, assistant professor of nursing, who taught the semester-long Global Healthcare Explorations course, and Theresa Moff, of UPMC Pediatrics.

Penn College offers six nursing majors, comprising associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. To learn more, call 570-327-4525.

To learn more about exploration opportunities at Penn College, visit the Global Experiences webpage.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.