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The Life Savers

The Life Savers
Simon Andrade, in Nicaragua, with some of his patients.

The appeal of Global Medical Training (GMT), for Aaron Menchaca and Simon Andrade, was pretty simple. They could do good and make good at the same time. The organization gave them the to chance to advance their own pre-health professions goals while also helping to provide basic care to poor communities in rural parts of Mexico and Central America.

Andrade, a third-year biology major from El Paso, Texas, spent two weeks in Nicaragua on a Global Medical Training trip during the summer of 2009. As one of the pre-medical students on the trip, Andrade was trained to be able to assist doctors in providing basic care and information through the temporary clinics that the group set up in various communities outside Managua.

During a typical day, says Andrade, the group would leave their hotel in Managua early in the morning, drive a few hours outside the city to a pre-arranged spot, and get the clinic up and running. Through the course of the day, groups of four or five students would talk to each patient, take their vital signs and get a feel for what their problems were. Then one of the supervising doctors would consult with the students, hear their diagnosis and conduct his own exam.

“We didn’t make the ultimate decisions about care, of course, but it was amazing training,” says Andrade. “At the beginning we were wrong a lot, but we got better and better as it went along. By the end of the trip, we’d gotten the hang of diagnosing a lot of the kinds of tropical diseases that people had. And we were able to make it easier for the doctors to treat them.”

For Andrade, the trip helped firm up his commitment to being a doctor. It also forced him to think seriously about what he’d do with his future life as a doctor.

“I’ve taken a lot more interest in public health,” he says, “and am now thinking of working with indigenous groups.”

For Menchaca, who’s the president of the Longhorn chapter of GMT, the program was essential to helping him figure out his career goals.

“I took my first trip to Mexico when I was still pre-med,” says Menchaca, a fourth-year biology and human development major from Sugarland, Texas. “I was trying to figure out whether I really wanted to go to medical school, and I realized I didn’t. I’m too emotional to be a doctor.”

Menchaca started thinking that he’d like to be a dentist instead. On his next GMT trip, he went to Nicaragua to help provide basic dental care. The experience sealed the deal.

“We did cleanings, fluoride treatments for the children and extractions,” he says. “I loved it. When I would clean people’s teeth, and remove their stains and tar, their faces would light up. It was a very immediate sense of gratification.”

Most of the trips, says Menchaca, include spots for students interested in either pre-dental or pre-medical experiences. The March break trips usually last a week or so, while the summer trips last roughly two weeks. And many of the students in GMT are able to cover or defray the costs of the trip—which range from roughly $1,000-$1,500—by soliciting donations from hometown businesses and organizations.

“The experience was incredibly valuable,” says Menchaca. “I improved my Spanish, particularly my familiarity with medical and dental terminology. I went somewhere I’d never been before, and I learned more about dentistry. And I was able to do something humanitarian.”

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Friday, 27 January 2023

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