The patient was 25, male, strong—seemingly healthy. Yet even before Brianna Kmetz-Fisher pulled out her stethoscope and listened to his breathing, she noticed something terribly amiss.
“I didn’t even put a stethoscope on his chest, and I could hear his heart pounding. It was so crazy,” Kmetz-Fisher said. “I asked, ‘Are you nervous?’ He said he wasn’t. Then I asked, ‘Does your heart race a lot?’ And it turned out that he said he wakes up a lot because his heart is pounding.”
A glucose test confirmed the man’s sugar levels were fine. So Kmetz-Fisher, a student at UB’s Physician Assistant Institute (UBPAI), directed the patient to doctors who followed up with more testing and treatment. In most medical clinics, there would be nothing particularly astonishing about the story. But Kmetz-Fisher wasn’t working in an ordinary medical clinic: she and nine other UBPAI students were stationed in a rural medical clinic in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, on a outreach mission earlier this year.
“The patient would never have sought medical attention because of his remote location, but with the help of the local media we were able to let people know we were there to help,” said UBPAI Professor Carolyn McCann, who led the group along with Adjunct Professor Dr. Monica Ahern Lockwood.
People were so grateful to have us, everyone would give you a hug. It was a heart-warming feeling and it reminded me why we are in the medical field, treating patients. –UBPAI student Daniel Hobson
Under their direction, the students assessed patients’ health, measured children’s heights and weights, and conducted other check-ups—all while sharing tips and information to educate patients about best health practices and preventative medicine.
“Our students are taking a tremendous burden off the local health care system by educating people about how they can take care of themselves through diet and lifestyle changes; it’s preventative medicine as opposed to treating a problem,” said McCann. “Our mission [at the UB Physician Assistant Institute] is to heal together, so we work with local communities to take care of themselves.”
For the past four years, UBPAI students and advising faculty with deep experience in all aspects of health care have traveled to Guatemala. The ongoing campaign meets two goals: treating patients who lack easy access to care and providing students training to become physician assistants with in-the-field experiences in global health. Since 2014, groups from the Physician Assistant Institute have worked with hundreds of patients at clinics tasked with keeping people healthy while working with a minimal amount of staff or resources.
As they always do, the students who traveled to Guatemala in January prepared for their trip organized fundraisers, including a dinner at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Bridgeport, to buy medical supplies that they later donated to the clinic in Guatemala. Yet even though they knew they would have to bring medical supplies on their trip, students said they were shocked by how much was needed.
Consider gauze bandages, which are so plentiful that they’re opened and thrown away without any thought, said Kmetz-Fisher. “For us, a bandage was nothing, but for them, it was everything. The medical staff was ripping it up into little pieces to save it and make it last longer. It was something so small, but it made me more aware.”
Carolyn McCann agreed. “You cannot imagine. They have nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean there is no rag to wipe down a table. We had to think on our toes to make things happen.”
When physician assistant student Daniel Hobson saw a little boy growing upset because his mother was getting a physical exam, Hobson reached for the first thing that was available to him: the stethoscope hanging around his neck.
“He saw us listening to his mother’s heart, so I thought he might think it would be cool to hear my heart or his own heart,” says Hobson. “I figured it would be good for him to experience.”
The boy settled down, but Hobson admits that, at times, there were “people who came to us with ailments we couldn’t handle. That was disappointing.”
Hobson continued: “People were so grateful to have us [that] everyone would give you a hug. It was a heart-warming feeling and it reminded me why we are in the medical field, treating patients.”
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, firstname.lastname@example.org