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Grant Makes Student's Journey Possible

Ellie Nielsen is the 2012 recipient of the Exploration Experience Grant, and a Natural Sciences student majoring in Math. The grants are awarded annually to students seeking funds to promote academic and career exploration. Past recipients have used the money to teach English to elementary school children in Cuzco, Peru; fund participation in the Halliburton Business Foundations Summer Institute; and study medicinal plants in South America. Ellie Nielsen used her grant to try out a possible career: medicine. This is the summer in her words.

My hopes for this summer were to get a quick glance of the medical field. But my trip to Honduras quickly turned into much more than that. For the last week of summer break I was volunteering in a small village in Honduras along with forty other students who were all future medical and dental students as part of Global Medical Brigades. I flew to Tegucigalpa, Honduras on the 16th of July. Flying in you could see tons of little cinderblock homes packed together, nothing like the landscape of flying over the United States. From Tegucigalpa, we were picked up by our program coordinators for the trip and took a two hour drive east, into the mountains with incredible views, along skinny roads cluttered with pot holes, to our home for the week.

The first afternoon was all preparation and sorting of the medications we brought. But during all this our group really started to get to know each other. One of the best parts was getting to bond with all the other students on the trip who shared the same goals and interests that I do. That night also included a trip down the road to a boys’ school where we played soccer against them and tried our hardest to get around the language barrier to hear their stories.

The next day we continued to sort medicines in the morning. Then in the afternoon we took a trip to an orphanage nearby. I didn’t really know what to expect but as soon as we walked through the gates, kids would come up and grab someone’s hand and bring them to come play. It was very touching. We played with them all afternoon and again tried to communicate with our broken Spanish.

The next day was our first day actually out in the community, actually running the medical part of our trip. We had brought along a doctor and a dentist and medications. And two other doctors who worked in Honduras joined us. We traveled to a school Jutiapa, where we set up our clinic. We arrived to a huge line of people waiting to be seen. Inside, we set up stations, which we would send people through and which we rotated around helping with. The first place people would go was triage where we would take their vital signs and briefly go over their symptoms. Then they would go to the doctor consultation, where they actually met with the doctor and he prescribed them medications. After that, they had the choice to visit the OB/GYN doctor and the dentist. From there, patients were brought into another classroom, where we presented a short lesson on hygiene and dental care. Then lastly, each patient visited the pharmacy station where they picked up the medicines that had been prescribed to them.

We went to this community and set up our mini clinic for three days and ended up seeing 887 patients in total. They ranged from newborns to elderly, pregnant women to old men. The amazing thing was how grateful each patient who went through was. Just walking by all the patients as they waited to be seen the way they smiled, no matter what the problem was and how patiently they waited in huge lines out in the sun, they all were so thankful we were there. It was rewarding knowing that although we were extremely limited in supplies, time and workers, we were able to help out so many people.

On our last full day of the trip we went back to the same community but instead of just seeing people to help with their medical needs, we did something for the community. We got together as a group and pulled together enough money to donate a roof to the restroom at the new medical clinic of the village we had been in, paint for the walls of the clinic. So the last day was spent building the roof and painting the building, while reflecting at the journey we had taken together.

At the end of this experience I know more than ever that I want to become a doctor. Being able to help the people around you is more than rewarding. The trip also has motivated me to learn Spanish so one day I can go back to a country that needs help, like Honduras, and help them even more than I was able to this time. I am so thankful I was able to take this journey and I want to really thank everyone who made this grant possible. It was a undeniably a trip I will never forget.