A group of 25 biomedical sciences students and two faculty members from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley this summer provided basic medical services and information to rural communities in Nicaragua.

The UTRGV Medical Brigades chapter, a student-led organization that focuses on providing medical attention to underserved areas both domestic and overseas, provided consultations, medications, dental work, lab work and preventive educational presentations to more than 800 people from Aug. 20-26 in three rural communities in Nicaragua: Susuli Central, El Zapote and El Hatillo.

Dr. Hugo Rodriguez, assistant professor of health and biomedical sciences, said this type of work is essential for both the patients and the students.

“The biggest issue there is the lack of resources. Since these are rural communities, most of the people have not seen a physician or a healthcare provider in months or years, if at all,” he said. “Students got to compare how the lifestyle, culture and healthcare system are different there, and I think now they have a different perspective on what it truly means to work in healthcare.”

Maria Castañeda, a health and biomedical sciences lecturer who attended the trip, has participated in programs like this before and was impressed by this group’s morale and eagerness to serve.

“There are a few parts of the trip that some people may not have found too enjoyable, such as bathing in cold water, the different food, sleeping on a stiff bed. It was far from a 5-star experience. But when you see the conditions, it makes you realize how privileged you are,” she said. “Though, even with such a large group of students, we did not ever hear any complaints. They all worked together as a team and were eager to continue serving every day.”

Nitchelle Rodriguez, a biomedical sciences major and student leader from Medical Brigades, said the experience made her appreciate her life at home and provided valuable experiences she hopes to use in the future as a physician assistant.

“It changed me as a person. It made me grateful for what I have,” she said. “I want to go to PA school after I graduate, so it was awesome to experience patient contact in such a unique context.”

THE STUDENTS

UTRGV students who participated in the trip to Nicaragua are Adrian Maldonado, Alberto Arroyo, Alessa Ramirez, Alonso Acosta, Amanda Salas, Angelica Leal, Carina Calvillo, Carlos Huerta, Daniela Vidal, Edgar Capistran, Graciela Alvarez, Graciela Carrillo, Hector Filizola, Jasmine Luke, Lakshman Vigneswaran, Maria Vaca, Matthew Mercado, Melanie Vance, Nitchelle Rodriguez, Roxanne Guzman, Sachin George, Shaira Perez, Shianne Montalvo, Vanessa Cavazos and Viviana Quintero.