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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Nicaragua Health Brigade

University of Dayton senior Ben Schmeusser was shocked to discover the health disparities between the United States and rural, underserved communities in Central America last year on his first medical mission trip to Nicaragua.

On his second trip in January 2017, the pre-medical major from Cincinnati developed a better understanding of the patients’ health issues and causes, which often relate to their impoverished living conditions.

“It wasn’t that these people were that much different from us,” Schmeusser said. “It was the fact they were living in such a different environment and it was really impacting their health. I was able to recognize that they can’t just walk to a Walgreens and pick up some Ibuprofen, get a clean cup of water from their sink or go see their family doctor when they have a problem.”

Schmeusser will make his third visit to Nicaragua in January 2018 with 60 undergraduate students, faculty and alumni as a leader on a nine-day medical, dental and public health brigade trip. Their goal is to improve the overall health and quality of life for people in underserved communities by increasing access to medical professionals, medications, sanitation and clean water.

A Nicaragua benefit dinner at 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at El Meson restaurant in West Carrollton, Ohio, will help raise funds toward the $20,000 needed for medications and medical supplies for the 2018 brigade. Tickets, which include a fajita buffet, are $50 and available at the Kennedy Union box office website.

Since 2011, the University has completed nine medical mission trips to Central America with partner organization Global Brigades, with nearly 400 students. The most recent trip in January served more than 1,400 patients in medical and dental clinics.

“Developing cultural competence for future health care professionals is very important,” said Kathleen Scheltens, director of pre-medical programs. “From the Marianist perspective, tying our education in with service is critical.”

Scheltens has accompanied most of the brigade trips, along with local physicians and adjunct faculty Tom Herchline and Marylynn Herchline. Alumnus and local physician Annette Chavez ’81, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University, also has been a part of seven brigades. Past trips have included Honduras and Panama, but for the last five years the brigades have focused on Nicaragua because of that country’s exceptional need and hospitality.

Chavez, who specializes in family medicine at Carillon Family Practice in Kettering, Ohio, said she enjoys spending a week with pre-medical students because they are smart, motivated and very interested in learning about health care.

“The past few years I have worked the pap smear room in Nicaragua and I think it is always an eye-opening experience for the students who assist me there,” Chavez said. “This past year a patient of mine donated washable menstrual kits to give to the patients and that was a big hit. Several of the students then did a poster presentation on the need for menstrual kits at the annual University of Dayton & Miami Valley Hospital Health Care Symposium.”

Chavez also has selected a number of pre-medical students from the brigades, including Schmeusser, to work as receptionists in her office.

Brigade trips occur during winter break and are open to students from across the University, but most participants come from the pre-medical and pre-dentistry programs. Students take a required course to orient them to Nicaragua and the ethical issues related to international health initiatives. Participants pay their own air fare and a program fee that covers lodging, transportation, meals, language interpreters and clean water.

Trips start with a three-day health brigade in which students build a sanitation area with a toilet, shower and clothes-washing station in families’ homes. They also put down concrete floors to help prevent Chagas disease, a potentially life-threatening illness caused by parasites found in insect feces.

Then comes a three-day medical brigade with both American and Nicaraguan doctors that includes medical, dental, gynecology, vision and pharmacy stations. Services are provided free to patients, who often travel several hours on foot or horse to take part.

Finally, there is a one-day water brigade in which students either build a pump, dig a trench or lay pipe to a storage container to help provide residents with clean water. Global Brigades volunteers from other universities continue that work on subsequent trips to that community in three-month intervals.

Schmeusser’s experiences have led him to volunteer at a Dayton free clinic that offers similar services to the local community. He also is considering a master’s degree in public or global health in conjunction with his medical degree.

“I would love to get a degree in one of those areas and continue to go on trips like this as a medical student and as a medical professional,” he said.

Donations toward 2018 brigade medications and medical supplies can be addressed to: Pre-medical programs, University of Dayton, 375 Science Center, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-2361.



- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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