Pastor Rich Carlson and a group of Union College PA students and professors returned to Union this week after more than a week providing medical care to Peruvians living in Iquitos and along the Amazon in the northern part of the South American country.
The group, which included six PA students, PA faculty Doug Phelps, and Lincoln pediatrician Dr. Amy Pinkall, spent six days providing medical care in clinics in Iquitos, followed by day traveling up the Amazon to provide care for residents along the river.
The annual trip is an option for first-year PA students, who don’t receive any academic credit, but plenty of invaluable experience.
“Interviewing so many people without the ability to order any labs or scans really helped me to realize the importance of getting all the facts,” said Michelle Vietz, a PA student from Iowa. “Usually in modern medicine, lots of labs and tests are ordered. These have their time and place, but this trip really showed the vital importance of the interviewing process and physical exam. Most of the time, I could come to a pretty clear diagnosis by just asking questions.”
The People of Peru Project houses the students and lines up clinic sites for them all around the city—usually in churches. “One day we set up in someone’s garage on a dirt floor,” said Phelps. “We had to move out of the way sometimes so they could get vehicles out.”
But he believes the clinics are valuable for the first-year students because they get a head start on working with actual patients. “They get to prescribe medications and even do minor surgeries,” Phelps explained. “The students say it helps them be better prepared for clinical rotations because they already know what it’s like to talk to patients.”
The experience also taught Vietz important lessons that go beyond the medical clinic. “The gratitude and happiness of the people we treated really caught my attention,” she said. “They live in dirty conditions among mosquitoes and parasites, yet they are so happy. The conditions they lived in did not change their attitude—which was a great lesson for me.”
Carlson, Union’s vice president for Spiritual Life, takes a team of PAs to Peru every year. To wrap up the trip, they made a stop at Cusco to see the sites and spent a day climbing Machu Picchu.