PA Foundation Helps Student and University Support Honduran Village
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December 22, 2020
In 2014, Tori Woodward was an enterprising undergraduate at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina, who knew what she wanted. She wanted to work in the medical profession; she wanted to see the world; and she wanted to help people. So, she started researching international volunteer opportunities and was connected to the Honduras Fountain of Life program through her mentor – a physician in the rural town where she grew up. Woodward spent ten weeks in Honduras that year, volunteering at an orphanage in the town of Taulabé and teaching the community English.
A Need for Medical Education
During her first visit, two of the children she was teaching wanted Woodward to meet their mother. In Honduras, it is customary to greet people with signs of affection – hugs and a kiss on the cheek. When these two eager children introduced Woodward to their mother, the woman pulled away and started crying. Woodward was confused, but later learned that the woman had HIV. Medical misinformation is so pervasive in the village that no one in the community would touch the woman for fear of catching HIV. For Woodward, it was a life-changing moment. “I look back on that as a pivotal moment in my life,” she says. “I came back to ECU, determined to change the world and determined to provide both medical education and medical care to this community in Honduras.”
When she returned to ECU, Woodward collaborated with several peers to establish an undergraduate club called “Pirates Promoting Community Wellness,” which focuses on wellness initiatives in the U.S. and includes an annual mission trip to Taulabé. She returned three more times as an undergraduate. Her senior year, during a conversation with the university’s chancellor, Woodward explained her “dream big” vision: “I wanted to make a global health initiative that connected ECU to Taulabé, Honduras.” She could already see the potential of an interprofessional team of ECU medical students and faculty providing resources and care to the residents of Taulabé on an annual basis.
A Supportive Mentor
Like Woodward, ECU alumna Kim Stokes, PA-C, grew up in a rural area and was called to the medical profession. The PA profession was a perfect fit for her, and she practiced clinically for eight years before joining the ECU PA program faculty. When Woodward was still deciding which medical career to pursue as an undergraduate, she met with Stokes, who sold Woodward on the PA profession. Woodward then matriculated into the ECU PA program and shared her vision for an interprofessional medical volunteer trip to Honduras with Stokes – the same vision she’d shared with the chancellor. Stokes, who had never done a service trip in the past, was intrigued. “I trusted Tori,” Stokes says. The university, while supportive, required that the trip become an official part of the curriculum. Stokes integrated the volunteer trip into her curriculum, and they were set to go.
A Successful Interprofessional Medical Trip
The ECU team took their first graduate interprofessional medical volunteer trip over their spring break in 2019. In addition to PA students and faculty, the group included occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) students and an occupational therapy faculty member. Upon arriving in the country, they went to the local market and handed out flyers with the date and location of a free medical clinic. They also told everyone they passed the date and location, since literacy in Honduras is low. The next morning, they saw and treated patients. The students took vitals and medical histories and then referred patients to the appropriate provider. Each day they ended up seeing more patients than they had expected, many of whom were experiencing back pain and other primary care concerns. They also took every available opportunity to provide health education. For instance, while patients were waiting to be seen, the OT and PT students demonstrated proper body mechanics. Woodward, Stokes, and the others returned to North Carolina a week later, exhausted but invigorated. “It’s an impactful experience,” Stokes says. Woodward, as a student, was reminded of her “why” for pursuing her PA path: “Sometimes didactic year is pretty terrible!” she laughs. “Every time I go to Honduras, my excitement and joy about practicing as a PA comes back.”
Additional Resources from the PA Foundation
Stokes is a supporter of the PA Foundation and receives its emails. One day, an invitation to apply for the PA Foundation’s Global Outreach Grant program caught her eye. She and Woodward were already discussing their return to Honduras when Stokes forwarded the information. “We knew it would give us more opportunities to help the community,” Stokes says. They collaborated on the application and were awarded a 2019 Global Outreach Grant.
“The grant gave us more freedom and opportunity to help the community,” Stokes says. “We were able to bring many more resources than we were expecting. Supplies are hard to purchase in Honduras, so we stocked up in the U.S. and flew down with extra luggage. We were able to hire translators and additional local healthcare providers who could help us treat the patients who came to see us. We were able to leave supplies with the community – glucometers, children’s cough syrup, blood-pressure cuffs, things like that.” Stokes and Woodward were most excited to leave a laptop with a webcam on site; they view it as an opportunity to provide both regular communication and potentially telemedicine in the future. “We couldn’t have done any of this without the Global Outreach Grant and the PA Foundation,” Woodward says.
Tori Woodward graduated from the ECU PA program and took the PANCE in December 2020. She will be starting her job in gastroenterology in January 2021. She can be reached at [email protected].
Kim Stokes, PA-C, completed her DMSc in July 2020. She is currently transitioning from her role at ECU to Elon University, where she will be the PA program director and chair. She can be reached via email at [email protected] and on LinkedIn and Twitter @ckim_stokes.