- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - Students at the University of Minnesota Rochester have joined a global-health effort that serves patients in Nicaragua and other countries.

The UMR Chapter of Global Brigades is a local branch of an international, student-led nonprofit effort, with health brigades from countries like Great Britain, Canada and the United States serving people in need in spots like Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and Panama.

University student brigades specialize in broad topics such as medical, dental, water, public health, environment and microfinance. UMR students went to Nicaragua once already and plan another journey in the spring, the Post-Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1AeyotF ) reported.

“We’re a medical public-health brigade,” said Katie Kestel, a UMR Chapter health-sciences major. That means the UMR Chapter provides health care to underserved communities. It hires dentists, three physicians, a pharmacist and a gynecologist, and sets up a clinic in Nicaragua to serve local residents.

The health-sciences degree is very broad. Graduates can go on to dental or medical school, or can get certification to become technicians in fields such as cardiography, respiratory care, radiography and sonography, said UMR junior Cassidy Steinberg, the group’s marketing and social media chair.

Global Brigades students get immersion into potential career fields by shadowing health professionals, as well as the culture of the country they visit, while also gaining experience through face-to-face contact with patients.

The students themselves do not provide medical care. They are not certified to do so. But they gain valuable understanding of patient needs as they help check in patients and guide them to the appropriate care providers, working alongside licensed health professionals.

The UMR students also develop culturally sensitive educational presentations about topics such as prevention of foodborne illness.

“We really tried to tailor it,” Kestel said.

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The students are not taking a vacation on these international trips, said Marie Wilson, the UMR group’s public-health faculty adviser. Rather, they’ve committed, ahead of time, to doing hard work, providing education to others and learning new information themselves.

“It’s a student-run group; student-run, student-facilitated, student-everything,” she said.

“That’s true across all of the chapters. It’s completely student-led,” Kestel said.

During last year’s UMR Chapter service project, students spent three days at clinics and then three days doing public-health projects.

They built a sanitation system, including a sink, shower and toilet, activities that can help students gain more confidence in their chosen educational track.

“That really solidified, for me, the public-health route,” Kestel said.

Public health is a discipline that looks at the big picture of community health. Putting in a sanitation system can provide a way to curtail communicable ailments such as norovirus because facilities are more readily available for hand-washing. Public health focuses on that big picture, rather than treatment of an individual.

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“I had never traveled out of the country before, so this was a very new experience for me,” Steinberg said. “It was a really cool experience and I didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely blew my expectations out of the water.”

“I think it was really nice that we were able to work alongside people from the country,” Kestel said. Local dentists in Nicaragua, for example, donate their time to help at the clinics.

“I loved so much seeing how happy people are, even though they have nothing, or they may be ill,” said Karlee Andersen, communications chair for the UMR Chapter of Global Brigades. “I just really started to think about what I have - and what I need.”

Some people in Ecuador are farmers, growing potatoes, for example, living a hand-to-mouth life. But some areas of the country are similar to Rochester, with full-scale grocery stores and similar jobs available. Of course, there are differences, such as the occasional truckload of bananas passing by.

Students drank in the cultural, medical and educational experiences and it was enough to make some want to return. They interacted with patients of all ages, from infants to 90-year-olds.

The UMR Chapter is raising approximately $50,000 to send the next group of students back to Nicaragua to the same region of the country. The money will cover travel, food and patient medications.

They’re currently looking for a Rochester-area M.D. or doctor of osteopathic medicine to travel with them in May.

That health professional, upon returning to Rochester, will be asked to share his or her observations about practicing medicine in Nicaragua compared to Rochester.

Students are also accepting monetary donations toward supplies, such as ibuprofen and bandages. And, volunteer time is also needed from physicians, nurses, physician assistants and others who can help students prepare.

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Information from: Post-Bulletin, https://www.postbulletin.com

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