PCOM Georgia Students Impact Lives in Guatemala

Staff Report

Thursday, March 9th, 2023

Sixteen Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine students and faculty members exchanged their Christmas holidays for a mission trip to Guatemala where they impacted the lives of almost 1,000 patients.

First, second and third year DO students, along with a DO student from the PCOM South Georgia campus, staffed several clinics located near Antigua, some in remote mountainous areas.

Donald Penney, MD, the chair of clinical education and a clinical professor of emergency medicine at PCOM Georgia, served as the chief medical officer for the trip arranged through International Medical Relief, a nonprofit mission organization headquartered in Colorado.

According to first year DO student Alice Manning (DO ’26), the trip to Guatemala was “an amazing and eye-opening experience.” She said, “Spending five days in clinics opened my eyes to the poor healthcare system in Guatemala and how much of a difference we can make by volunteering, donating medications, and providing health care through mission trips.”

She explained that each clinic had several stations including triage, community education, health care and dentistry. In the community education area, Manning enjoyed informing patients about proper handwashing techniques and hygiene, along with providing information about diabetes and dentistry.

“I did not realize the impact and importance of the knowledge I was sharing until I was approached by several patients asking me to show them how to use dental floss,” she said.

“In the United States, we take for granted having clean water, being taught at a young age to wash your hands, and how to brush and floss our teeth. As a medical student sometimes you are so focused on treating the ailment that you can forget the importance of prevention and giving your patients the knowledge.”

Manning shared that she used many skills learned in medical school including taking patients’ histories and vitals and using osteopathic manipulative medicine. She used OMM for neurologic motor exams, upper extremity range of motion tests, special tests for carpal tunnel syndrome, and diagnosing rotator cuff strains.

She noted that a highlight of the trip was using a pocket ultrasound so a pregnant woman could see her baby for the first time. 

Shino Sleeper (DO ’24) said, “It was a very rewarding opportunity where we got to put what we learned during didactics into action without any anxiety or a scorecard.”

“We used some of our OMM training, which was highly useful in this kind of environment since you could offer immediate care and teach movements so the patients could improve their lives over time, rather than just the one week or month of medication we could provide,” she said.

During the trip, the students’ routine included debriefing sessions each day after clinics to discuss issues related to the day’s work. Some of the students used their free day to hike Pacaya, an active volcano. Manning was fascinated to see a Guatemalan cooking a pizza on top of lava at the volcano’s peak.

Dr. Penney, who noted that the Guatemala trip was dedicated to the memory of PCOM Georgia Doctor of Osteopathic student Danny Martinez, is planning another mission trip to Tanzania this summer through International Medical Relief. The organization is active in multiple countries and provides hotel lodging, transportation to and from the clinics, as well as some meals. In addition, the organization provides medications, eyeglasses and dentistry, along with follow-up care for patients needing attention after the clinics.