Pediatrics Faculty and UofL Medical Students Treat Patients in the Rainforest

Pediatrics Faculty and UofL Medical Students Treat Patients in the Rainforest

Group photo on the first day of clinics in Ecuador.

Is it possible to go thirsty in a rainforest?

This summer, a team of medical students working in rural Ecuador learned the answer to this question. For two weeks in June, 17 rising second year medical students and teaching faculty traveled with Timmy Global Health (TGH) to Tena, Ecuador, as part of a service brigade. Students performed clinical tasks such as taking vital signs, triaging patients and shadowing American and Ecuadorean physicians, including University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics faculty members Dr. Claudia Espinosa and Dr. Bethany Hodge. More than 1, 000 patients were seen in eight pop-up clinics in villages in the Amazon basin. Through the work of TGH, the team was able to distribute needed medications and make referrals for higher levels of care at no cost to the patients.

One of the most common diagnoses made was headache due to dehydration. In a lush, green landscape where laundry never dries despite days on the line, getting to clinic often meant negotiating small rivers in pickup trucks and plastic rain boots. There is water everywhere, but it is often contaminated with infectious parasites. Many people work long hours farming by hand in the equatorial sun but they drink only a single cup of water per day. The process to transform the abundant river water into usable liquid means harvesting wood, making a fire and boiling every drop used to cook, drink and wash eating utensils. The tedious burden of purifying water means that most people in the rainforest either go thirsty or suffer with a belly full of worms from drinking contaminated water.

As important as it is to learn the basics of medical knowledge, students also learn important principles of being a culturally competent physician through international experiences such as the summer trip to Ecuador. Students learn that patients should be seen as whole individuals and not focus solely on curing pathologies. Patients’ environments, cultures and beliefs influence the physical manifestations of health and disease, and it is not until providers place all those elements together that they can deliver good care.

In the post-trip reflective essays written by the medical students, almost every person confirmed that they had greater understanding of the fundamental need for access to reliable, clean water for patients to be healthy and roles of the physical environment and culture in patients’ health. These are valuable lessons for these young docs, learned in one of the wettest places on earth.

Ecuador Photo Album