LUCOM travels to Guatemala for first medical outreach,
partners with Hope of Life International

By Christopher Breedlove, LUCOM Marketing & Public Relations

Contained within the mission of Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM), is a goal to prepare physicians who provide excellent and compassionate osteopathic care for their fellow man. As a Christian, faith-based institution one of the principle themes is to serve the underserved. On Saturday, July 18, over 80 student doctors from the inaugural class of the college embarked on the first international medical outreach event to live out that mission and put into practice the skills obtained by the student doctors throughout their first year of medical school.

Student doctors applies OMM treatment to adultUnder the supervision of LUCOM faculty and staff, student doctors traveled to three villages within the province of Zacapa, Guatemala; Los Limones, Pueblo Modelo, and Pueblo del Rio to provide care that the inhabitants would otherwise not have available. Over five days, student doctors provided osteopathic medical care for men, women, and children; examining, treating, and educating patients with a goal of improving their health and wellness. The team provided diagnostic studies including ultrasound and bed side laboratory procedures, distributed medicines to treat and control acute and chronic disease, provided vitamins and minerals to foster improved nutritional status; and left a positive and memorable impact by sharing the hope and love of Jesus Christ.  

“LUCOM is a young college still. To have such an extensive first medical outreach trip within its first academic year for rising second year student doctors, with only one year of medical education so far was an invaluable learning experience. In my years of medical education, this was the best I have seen rising second year student doctors perform; I am very proud of the quality and caliber of our student doctors,” said Ronnie B. Martin, D.O., Dean of LUCOM.

LUCOM partnered with nonprofit organization Hope of Life International, which shares a similar vision; to rescue future generations of Guatemalans through the power of the Gospel, to meet each physical need with a spiritual need, as well as a physical or medical solution. Hope of Life provided the logistics to support the outreach event, from accommodations to meals, from transportation to Spanish-speaking translators to assist the student doctors and physicians out in the field.

According to James Cook, Director of Medical Outreach and International Medicine, Hope of Life International has already established quality programs and partnerships with Liberty University prior to LUCOM involvement. “Hope of Life has an extensive campus in Guatemala offering care for special needs children, the elderly, a mission house for rescued babies, and a six-story hospital still under construction that even today is able to accommodate hundreds of patients at a time with low-cost, if not free, quality service. We at Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine consider it a privilege to partner and share in their outreach.”

Student doctors applies OMM treatment to childFor the rising second year students, the trip to Guatemala was the first opportunity to extensively apply their clinical skills for in-need, patients. According to second-year student doctor, Audrey Mikhail, the experience exceeded all her expectations. “I knew I would encounter poverty and disease, but I didn't understand how much their [citizens] reality would affect mine. The challenges we faced were innumerable; from needing more time with patients, to needing more tools and testing equipment, and needing more medicine,” she added. “Seeing how our physicians [faculty] overcame the challenges showed their level of expertise in medicine. Shadowing them and applying their instructions taught me a lot about how to handle situations that are out of my control.”

A hands-on approach to medicine is key for osteopathic physicians. Utilizing palpatory examinations and the evaluation of structural abnormalities in a patient expands the physician’s ability to diagnose and treat patients in clinical settings; skills highly employed by the student doctors during this medical event. “One of the most beneficial aspects of this trip was to see how valuable osteopathic manipulative medicine [OMM] was for immediate healing, pain relief, and in situations when we had nothing else to offer,” said Mikhail. “For the first time I understood the clinical importance of our hands as osteopathic physicians within the healing process. I love the profession I've chosen and so excited to use it to benefit others seeing them happy, healed, and whole, as we ultimately affect their mind, body, and spirit.”

For most participants the opportunity to travel to another country and offer medical care was not only an opportunity to put their skills into practice, it was a chance to contribute to the quality of life of others and to be remembered. “As student doctors we became involved in a partnership. The patients we tended to not only saw us as doctors providing care, but now, hopefully, they see us as friends,” said Craig Mitcham, second-year student doctor. “If I return on a future trip, they might recognize my face. If my friend returns to a village that went this past summer, someone might recognize his or her face. It becomes more than a professional relationship. It’s a friendship, a level of trust. They know that we are actually trying to invest in their lives and improve their quality of life.”

Altogether LUCOM student doctors were able to see more than 1600 patients in their five days of service, of which, 1200 were children. “I am grateful for our medical outreach team who helped coordinate this first international trip and the volunteers who participated. LUCOM received volunteer support from Liberty’s School of Nursing and School of Health Sciences, as well as, community members and members of Thomas Road Baptist Church,” added Dr. Martin. “The trip was a phenomenal success. Not in the fact that 115 people traveled collectively, but that we, as Christians, reflected an example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; the greatest of all physicians.”

Student doctor prays over baby in wombCommenting on the spiritual component of the trip, second-year student doctor Joshua Reynolds also said, “It was always hard knowing that each day was limited and that any form of medical care we provided was temporary. But, if you can give spiritual care; if a patient comes into a relationship with Jesus, then they’re taken care of for eternity, so that’s really the goal.”

The medical outreach event received support not only for Liberty University and the College of Osteopathic Medicine, but was supported by several other organizations as well. Donated medicines, vitamins, and medical supplies from philanthropic organizations including the American Osteopathic Foundation (AOF), Heart to Heart International, Brother’s Brother Foundation, Kingsway Charities, Blessings International, and +MAP International (Medical Assistance Programs) made the success of the event possible. “We received 12,000 Glad Ziploc plastic bags from the local U.S. Company, which made it possible for us to package and distribute medication to the patients seen,” said Cook.

At the end of the week remaining medications and medical supplies were donated to St. Luke’s Hospital on the campus of Hope of Life International to support continuity care for the patients seen and those who were present for care.

“Traveling to Zacapa, Guatemala last July was only the beginning of the service and outreach events planned by LUCOM. We are committed to medical outreach events that serve those in need within Central and Southern Virginia with events already in the planning stages to incorporate our partnerships with Life Point Hospitals, the community health centers Johnson Health and PATHS, and the facilities of Centra Health. Through our partnership with Hope of Life International we are set to return to Zacapa both in the spring and next summer,” added Dr. Martin. “We recruit student doctors at LUCOM who demonstrate and live out their passion to serve others and one way we support those students is through medical outreach that we can foster and nourish those passions.”