Team of 22 provide medical care and hope in Ecuador during fall break

COCA, Ecuador – Campbell University Jerry M. Wallace School of Medicine sent a team to provide healthcare and evangelism in Ecuador during Fall Break.  The medical school is committed to sending teams on local and global medical mission trips four times a year during the scheduled breaks from classes.

“The students really did our school proud,” said Rev. Doug Short, adjunct faculty for Community and Global Health.  “As one of them put it:  ‘We killed it!’ Indeed!  The trip went smoothly, and the students went beyond demonstrating their technical proficiencies – they also demonstrated hearts of compassion and service, not only to the people of Ecuador, but to one another.”

Five Campbell staff members lead the team: Dr. John Kauffman, dean of the medical school; Dr. Joe Cacioppo, chair of global medicine; Rev. Short; Grace Schupp, administrative assistance for CUSOM global health; and Dr. Charles Carter from Campbell University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences.   Additional leadership and support were provided by International Christian Resources as the team served three Ecuadorian communities.

The team stayed in the town of Coca and traveled out to the communities of Quichuan, Huataraco and Pimampiro about two hours away each day and was also involved in encouraging the local ministry, Primera Iglesia Bautista De Coca and coordinated with ABWE missionaries in the region.

“Ours days started early with devotions at 6:00 a.m. so we could get to the sites and spend as much time as possible with the people,” said Dr. Cacioppo. “Our camps were much more than the medical clinics. The students took part in our women’s ministry where they prayed for and washed the feet of the women, and they participated in children’s and youth ministries where they made bracelets with the girls and played soccer with the boys. We prayed with and shared the gospel with all. Our days were long returning to the hotel around 7:00 p.m. for dinner and debriefing. At the end of the week, we spent some down time exploring some of the beauty of the rain forest and zip line rides across the Coca River Gorge.”

 “CUSOM medical mission trips are a wonderful way to become culturally enlightened, serve communities in need, learn more about medicine, and practice the art of healing,” said second year medical student and SGA President Emilie Pinto.  “Having studied abroad there 3 years ago, I was thrilled to go back to learn and serve alongside my peers and professors.”

“I wanted to go on the trip so that I could further develop my clinical skills, to learn about another culture, and to ignite hope in a different community,” said Vanessa Adamson also a second year medical student and SOMA Chapter Vice-President.  “The clinical experience was simply invaluable because learning in a real life setting helps to confirm skills learned in a classroom setting.  We completed patients’ history, physical, assessment and plan.  A physician adviser would then go over it with us and help to further develop our knowledge, showing us what we did correct or incorrect. By far, the most valuable experience was the human connection – learning about how to help a community with different prevalence of disease and about how our short term service would actually be of use. We were there to give hope – providing transformation in the community that would last even after we left.”

“Clinically, the most valuable thing I learned was if we couldn’t help a patient, how difficult it was to provide any condolences or comfort,” said second year student Matthew Scott.  “It was especially difficult in one instance of a young woman who had terribly disfiguring acne accompanied with a giant keloid (unfixable overgrowth of scar tissue) on her face.  We couldn’t give her any of our medications because she was breastfeeding a newborn, and the medications would have harmed her child. However, if she was in the U.S. or any other developed country, there would be several perfectly viable treatments for her and her situation.   While there are far worse, more life-threatening conditions in the area to worry about (i.e. malaria or yellow fever), this one was hard for me because all she needed was a simple cream or pill to completely alleviate her symptoms.”

Scott and other members of the Campbell team worked together to determine the best treatment they could offer.

“This was where I really grew as a future physician and also as a Christian. It stretched me to try and help her in unconventional ways. By coordinating with a couple different doctors, residents, and the pharmacist, Dr. Charles Carter, we came up with an at-best mediocre treatment, but it was something. And beyond this, we prayed with her – something I had never done with a patient before this trip – and we changed how she felt about her condition; she smiled afterward – she felt hopeful.  I’m not certain she understood what we were praying about, but maybe she just simply recognized that we cared enough to ask God to help her.”

“CUSOM has been committed to mission medicine from day one,” said Dr. Kauffman.  “The experience not only provides students with an intensive exposure primary care, but it also challenges their faith and worldview.  We know the growth as a professional and individual are immeasurable.”

“This trip changed me, making me a more empathetic and well balanced student,” continued student doctor Adamson. “I learned about myself; I learned that this career is the right place for me because, even though I may make several future sacrifices with time and devotion to medicine, it is completely worthwhile. I will be given the opportunity to transform lives, improve health and, I hope, to impact preventative healthcare practices in a rural community.”

“This idea of instilling hope in patients is not limited to mission trips and is something I will take with me wherever I go in medicine,” continued student doctor Scott. “This is why missions are important – they help us remember that patients need hope and compassion, not just medications and procedures. It reminds us that even though our plates are full, it’s our responsibility to give them that hope because in reality, we are the ones our patients need it from most. Family and friends offer crucial moral support for any recovery, but they can never replace a trained doctor consoling a patient about their condition.”

“Aside from the care and compassion we share with the people in the communities we visit on mission trips, one of the greatest rewards of leading these teams is seeing the impact on the team members – seeing those who go for the first time, receive a calling in their hearts and desperately want to return,” said Dr. Cacioppo.

“This was my first mission trip, and it most assuredly will not be my last,” concluded student doctor Scott. “I learned a ton, became a better future doctor, and a better man of God. I would encourage anyone who feels the urge to use their skills to help others, which I hope is everyone in medical school, to go on a medical mission trip.”