International Volunteer Opportunities Give a Glimpse into Healthcare

By MidlevelU Contributor and Future MD Ritika Jain

This summer, for two weeks, I got the chance to join an international volunteer service organization, Volunteers Around the World, on a medical clinic trip to the Dominican Republic. The trip was a glimpse into my future profession and a humbling learning experience. Here's a recap. 

Our first day of clinic was a learning experience. Upon setting up our stations, which consisted of taking vital signs, blood glucose checks, shadowing doctors, and administering medications, we were amazed to see a huge line of people eagerly awaiting the chance to be provided with basic necessities that we take for granted here in the states.

As we gradually adjusted into the swing of the things, it was so humbling to see how grateful and patient these people were. They never once complained when we needed to take their blood pressure twice nor when they had to wait a good few minutes to move onto the next station. Instead, they trusted us wholeheartedly with their care and many even loved to share their life stories. Every clinic site we visited held different experiences for us. We sometimes had many kids and other times we had a more aged population. Sometimes we had 50 patients and other times almost 100. Despite these fluctuations, one point stayed the same: We had the chance to help.

I was able to inform people with skyrocketing blood glucose readings and blood pressures that they needed to visit the hospital. I was able to provide medicine and relief to those who did not have the money to afford a simple pill. The feeling that I may have saved a person’s life is incredible and unbeatable.  

Being in a different country equates with the chance to explore a whole new culture. During my stay in the Dominican Republic, I was introduced to a slew of dancing styles, including bachata, meringue, and salsa. A Dominican night put on by our in-country hosts, abounded with delicious Dominican foods and games, which were incredibly fun (and exhausting!). Bon, a chain of ice cream stores, was our heaven on earth, leading us to walk over after lunch to scarf down tons of cookies and crème ice cream almost every day. Chinola (Passion fruit) juice still calls my name. I even picked up a few Spanish words and phrases during my brief trip. 

The most memorable moment of the trip was when we were delivering groceries to an impoverished community nearby. It was mind-boggling to see a community of starving people living in shacks right in the backyard of huge, mansion sized houses. Such a stark contrast truly puts things in perspective. When we brought the groceries to the community, a local who has 2 kids and lives with her mother-in-law, helped us bring food to those in most need, which included a woman with 4 children and a 5th on the way and a blind couple. Not only that, but upon giving the woman who had helped us choose the houses her box of food, she told us how only that morning had she bought bread on credit because she had nothing to feed her children. It was such a bittersweet moment and one that opened my eyes to the realization that people all around the world face these challenges every day. 

I would highly recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and heading out to support an impoverished area in any way, shape or form you can. Seeing the smiling, appreciative faces of those people whose lives you have touched and bettered, even in the slightest way, is truly heartwarming. You don’t even necessarily have to go out on medical trips. There are a variety of ways in which you can help: dental trips, volunteering at an orphanage, teaching English, building homes, something as simple as delivering groceries.

Volunteering abroad is a great hands-on experience no matter what career you are pursuing. In addition, there are many organizations that can help you find and plan the perfect volunteering experience, some of which include Volunteers Around the World, Cross Cultural Solutions, Projects Abroad, ISL and many more. Either way, whatever path you choose to take will surely leave you with a better cultural understanding and a life changing experience.

 

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