International trip emphasizes value of compassion in medicine

Deannys Batista is a second-year medical student at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. This summer, she spent six days in Santiago, Dominican Republic, with nine students from around the United States and one attending doctor, on her first medical mission trip – a journey she describes as “an amazingly tiring and rewarding experience.” Here are some of her most memorable moments, as told by Batista.

Photo 7A team effort (photo, left): This is the team of students I participated with. We spent a week working together, helping and learning new things from each other.

One day we went to a village very close to Haiti, so 80 percent of the patients were Haitian. That was really difficult. I speak Spanish so translating from English to Spanish was fine, but we had four people translating for one patient – from Haitian, to so-so Spanish, to good Spanish, back to English. It was difficult, but also I think that for me it was also the most rewarding, to be able to communicate with a patient in a different language. You had to be creative to get through to the patient.


The American doctors are coming! (photo, right): The clinics we set up every day and were located in churches, houses, or any spaces that they would allow us to use. In this clinic, we had the waiting room and the medical stations in a backyard, and the pharmacy was our van parked outside. In four days of clinic, we were able to treat around 550 patients from 8 villages. We had patients of all ages, from 15-day-old newborns to 90-year-old elderly. Although we did not have a lot of resources, we certainly made it work and the patients were happy!

In their weekly masses, the churches announced that we were coming, and people found out by word of mouth. A neighbor would send word to someone in the village; they would say, “The American doctors are coming!” We would get there and there would be hundreds of people waiting for us, sometimes for over two hours.


Time over medication (Photo, left): I had a patient that was in her 50s or 60s. She had a lot of problems – her thyroid, osteoporosis-bone problems. As soon as she sat down she started crying. Her main problem was that she had recently lost a son who was about 19. Even though she had a lot of medical issues, her main thing was just being able to talk about her son. It was more of a psychological thing.

We barely had any medication to give out to the patients – just vitamins, ibuprofen, very basic things. For her, we were not able to give her the special things she needed but I spent a lot of time with her, whether it was just in silence or actually talking. I learned that it’s not always about the medications that you give. It’s more about the time you give to the patients. That was the moment that made it worth it.

The geriatric patient population has always been one of my favorites. After treating several elderly patients on this trip, I’m keeping geriatrics as a possible specialty to consider when I apply to residencies.

Photo 4A home visit (Photo, right): In one of the clinics we had set up, we learned about this patient who was in need of medical attention but was unable to travel to our location. So, the physician, a pastor, and I borrowed a motorcycle and drove through dirt roads into a small village where her house was located. I took her blood pressure and spent some time with her and her family, and although she had been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder some years ago and her cognitive abilities were diminished, her lively spirit was certainly not.

In these situations, I was thinking that if somebody doesn’t come to them, they have no way of getting to a doctor, and how many Dominican doctors can actually do home visits for these patients? It’s not realistic. I had just done my NeighborhoodHELP home visit a few days before I left for the trip, so I really thought about that.
Photo 5Back to the basics (Photo, left):
In this photo, we’re conducting a patient interview and physical exam in the stations we had arranged as we did not have examining tables. The majority of the patients complained of lower back and leg pain and I was able to practice the musculoskeletal portion of the physical exam many times.

Some patients hadn’t been to the doctor in years.They all needed medicine and just access to a physician. We saw a lot of patients with Zika and chikungunya. These people walk everywhere and they work all day long so hip pain, and muscular skeletal problems were big, too. In kids, I would say the main health concern was parasites. I saw a lot of kids because whenever we would say, ‘OK one more patient,’ it was a mother with like, four kids, so it really turned out to be like six patients at a time. We saw a lot of elderly patients, too; a lot of women, children and elderly.

Photo 6The unlikely perfect patient (Photo, right): This was one of the best and most well-behaved patients I had! Although she was not feeling well, she was fully cooperative and earned a few minutes of play time with my stethoscope.Photo3

An unforgettable first (Photo, left): This was my first time performing an otoscopic exam on a toddler. I was concerned she was going to be scared and not let me look into her ear, but she had no problem with it and barely moved!

A once-in-a-lifetime experience (Photo, below): This was one of the best and most valuable experiences I’ve had. I learned plenty of academic medicine, but most importantly, I was reminded of the importance of compassion and humanism in medicine. The trip gave me a lot of motivation for this year and for next year when I start clinical experience, and I really needed that. Spending that week in the Dominican Republic, I thought, OK this is why I’m studying so much. You tend to forget how grateful you are for all the things you have. It was a good reality check; everyone needs that once in a while.Photo 8