Mercer University students and faculty made a big impact during a medical mission trip to Honduras this summer. Over the course of nine days, they saw 1,510 patients, handed out 4,995 prescriptions and logged 1,560 hours of service.
Eight medical students, two nursing students, three pharmacy students, six undergraduates, four undergraduate interpreters and five faculty members participated in the Mercer On Mission experience.
It was the sixth year the University took a team to Honduras and its third time working in the southern region of Choluteca, said Dr. Alice House, dean of the Columbus campus of Mercer’s School of Medicine.
This area has one private hospital and one public hospital for its 420,000 residents, but many do not have the transportation or financial means to use them. In addition, medicines and treatments are often in short supply. Only some villages have small health centers where nurses provide medical care.
In partnership with Honduras Outreach Inc., the Mercer participants set up a health clinic in a different church or community center each day. They created stations where patients had vital signs checked, were assessed by nurses and doctors, received prescriptions and were educated on various health issues, such as hypertension, diabetes, diet and sexually transmitted diseases.
The students rotated through the stations during the nine clinic days, learning from their peers when they were working outside their study area, Dr. House said.
Hardik Vachhani, who’s starting his fourth year of pharmacy school, said he did a lot of pharmacy work but also got experience taking vitals and medical histories. This was his first Mercer On Mission trip.
“The (Hondurans) are really friendly. They were really glad that we were there. They were very nice and kind,” Vacchani said. “I learned a lot about their culture, their perspective on health and what they want from their medicine.”
Some Hondurans traveled hours to get to the clinics and brought their whole family with them, Dr. House said. The Mercer team provided care for chronically ill, elderly and pregnant patients as well as walk-ins. They were also able to treat injuries and conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis and pneumonia.
“We took the time to talk to people, and we gave them hope,” Dr. House said. “We gave them the realization that there are people out there that care. We left them with information that can lead to lifestyle changes that can have lasting effects.”
The students gained a true understanding of the cultural differences as well as the level of poverty in Choluteca, Dr. House said. Medicines might cost a person $2 or $3 a month, but that’s half the average resident’s income.
The Mercer team stayed in the guesthouse for La Grecia, a sugar cane grower that is tied to the community. The students and faculty took a break from their work to spend a day at the beach, and they visited the Valley of Angels at the end of the trip.
“We had a great group. It was a great experience as a team,” Vacchani said. “Every single person, they were helping. If I needed any help, I just went to another student and they helped right away.”