Health Care Students Run Free Clinic on Mission Trip

Medical mission trips provide short-term volunteer opportunities for college students studying to be  nurses, sonographers, future physicians or other health professionals. Mission trips are also a way for students to minister with compassion and spiritual care.

This spring, in a partnership with Seeds Ministries, a group of 31 students and faculty members from Baptist College of Health Sciences conducted  free primary care medical clinics on a short-term mission trip. The experience gave students an opportunity to work with local ministry groups in the Dominican Republic.

Karen Smith, director of campus ministries at Baptist College of Health Sciences, organizes the annual trip. The weeklong clinic teaches students how to work together as a team to care for patients.

Learning Through Service

“The goal of our mission trip is multidimensional,” said Smith. “Medical missions challenge our students to step outside their comfort zone by learning to care for patients in developing and impoverished areas. Mission trips also provide daily opportunities to use the skills they’re gaining here at the college.”

Students who go on a mission trip rotate through all areas of the primary care clinic. According to Dr. Betty Sue McGarvey, president of the Baptist College of Health Sciences, mission trips help prepare students to be well-rounded health care professionals.

“Students assess patients when they arrive and then stay with them during all aspects of the clinic visit,” said McGarvey. “They do triage, take vital signs and physical assessments and perform diagnostic tests, such as urinalysis and blood sugar checks.”

Because many patients in the Dominican Republic speak Spanish, students work closely with interpreters to help them understand how to take medication and care for wounds at home. However, language is only one hurdle students learn to overcome.

“They may feel confident in one area and less confident in another,” said Smith. “For example, we always take sonography students and an ultrasound machine with us. They work together with nursing and other allied health students to teach the importance of imaging.”

In addition to an ultrasound machine, students and faculty take a variety of medical supplies. Thanks to Crosslink Memphis, a nonprofit organization that provides supplies for medical missions, the cost of the group’s much-needed supplies and medicine was reduced from $160,000 to $9,000.

The Power of Hands

Students, faculty and staff pay their own way and may secure financial assistance through an endowment from the Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation and other fundraising initiatives. For example, students sell art pieces, homemade tamales, pies and gallons of Chick-fil-A tea.

“They also sell t-shirts and receive donations from faculty, staff and family members,” said McGarvey. “It’s a commitment and a sacrifice to attend a missionary trip — but it’s a life-changing experience for all involved.”

Students share how medical missionary work has opened their eyes, deepened their faith and ignited important discussions about the power of their hands to make a difference.

“Hands are important here at the college,” said Smith. “We bless students’ hands when they go into clinical settings for the first time. We pray over them, and we talk about being the hands of Christ. At the opening convocation in the fall, students, faculty and staff trace their handprints and write their name on muslin. Then, Dr. McGarvey takes this fabric and has it made into a lap quilt.”

Some lap quilts accompany students on medical missions where they become gifts to patients.

“Students gave a lap quilt to a 12-year-old girl in the Dominican Republic,” said Smith. “Her mother had died, and she was very depressed and lonely. The students ministered to her and presented her with the quilt to symbolize the hands of people in Memphis, Tennessee, who care and love her. It was a tangible way to say, ‘God is always with you.’”

Learn more about mission projects, including how students join faith with a medical career, at the Baptist College of Health Sciences.