medical care in rural panama
Pre-Med Students Fund Their Way to Central America to Provide Care
“I think a lot of people take for granted what we have here in the States. Down there, you see all the poverty and lack of opportunities to get even basic medical care.”
Bailey Premer may have grown up in Kearney, but as a junior pre-medical student studying biology with a health sciences emphasis, he’s seen a slice of life outside of his home state. Along with 20 other members of the UNK chapter of Volunteers Around the World, Premer had a chance to travel to Central America to bring medical care to remote Panama Islands.
In this part of Central America, hospitals can be difficult to access depending on your location; let alone anything resembling a Western-style urgent care clinic or family physician’s office. Many residents don’t have access to clean water, medication, or hygiene products. Chicken pox outbreaks and treatable parasites are common. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases, especially in the circulatory system, are the leading cause of death for men and women. There are clear inequalities in medical access between the urban and rural populations; in 2014, over 21% lived in poverty (41% of whom lived in rural areas).
Working with Panamanian doctors, the UNK students set up mobile clinics throughout Bocas del Toro, a chain of islands stretching over 1,700 square miles. They provided free care and medication to more than 300 patients. In their downtime, they painted a local school and talked to children about dental hygiene.
“I thought it was an amazing way to give back, experience the world, and help people,” said Premer.
UNK’s pre-medical students benefit from the chance to study a variety of medical challenges and shadow doctors in another part of the world. Learning about a different healthcare system through a global perspective will help to prepare them for future clinical experiences and working with patients from a variety of cultural backgrounds here in the United States.
With more funding allocated to the University system for trips like this, students could have an even bigger impact. For this trip, however, each student paid their own way, which cost about $3,000. The group also raised nearly $1,000 to purchase medication and other supplies for patients.
“This trip really emphasized how much a couple dollars…can change someone’s life.”
“Helping other people, it makes a huge difference, even if you don’t realize it,” he said. “This trip really emphasized how much a couple dollars or a kind act can change someone’s life.”
Imagine how many more lives could be changed—all while giving students real-world learning experiences outside their college campus—with the right kind of backing to support them.
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