Medical/Dental Trip to Panama | West Chester, OH | West Chester Family Dentistry

Medical/Dental Trip to Panama

            For those of you who I have not met at the office yet, my name is Lauren Tran. I am a junior at University of Dayton studying biology and applying to dental school in June to hopefully follow in my dad’s footsteps. At the beginning of 2020, I had the gracious opportunity to go on a medical/dental brigade through a program called Global Brigades with 50 University of Dayton students. When I first found out that I was accepted to go on the trip, my professors, Dr. Kathleen Scheltens and Dr. Marylynn Herchline, asked if anybody knew a dentist that would like to go on the trip with us to Panama. Of course, I said that I knew a dentist that would be more than happy to attend this trip. That is how the medical/dental brigade to Panama became a father/daughter trip!

            The question that I got asked the most when my dad and I got back from Panama is: “What did you do?”. As many times as I have gotten asked that question, I always pause and think how I could possibly answer the question since there was so much to say. First, I would mention how we dug trenches for water pipelines during the first two days. The water pipelines are going to supply running water to local houses and schools for the community of La Candelaria. Before the pipelines, the families of La Candelaria would have their water turned on for an hour every day. They would have to collect all the water within that hour in a reservoir and that would be their only source of water for the day. After talking with a local family, they said that most of the water that they collected would be used for food preparation and cooking, then drinking water, which meant that there was very little water used to wash clothes or personal hygiene.

            The following day, we spent most of the time for medical packing. This included making personal hygiene packs of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, and soap. We counted and sorted medications and vitamins for the pharmacy station that was crucial for our clinical days. Before the medical/dental brigade to Panama took place from January 2nd-10th, the other students and I took a class to prepare for the trip and spent the entire fall semester fundraising and collecting donated items. This was very important, and I am proud to say that we filled and brought 15 checked suitcases full of medical supplies and medications for this medical/dental brigade to Panama. During the class as we prepared for the trip, we would learn about Panamanian culture, brush up on our Spanish, and delve into how to make our medical/dental brigade ethically sound.

            The last 4 days of the trip were the clinical days, where we set up in the communities of Piedras Gordas, Las Delicias, and La Candelaria. Each of the students were assigned certain roles in the stations of intake, triage, consultation with doctors, dental, optometry, Charla, and pharmacy. Students oversaw organizing patient forms and escorting them to the next station. In triage, two students would take care of a patient. One student would take vitals such as blood pressure, temperature, height, weight, and pulse. The other student would be asking about personal and family medical history. The patient would then be escorted to either consultation with physicians, dental, or optometry depending on what they needed. In consultation, they would see physicians and receive anti-parasite medications as well as get prescribed any other medications they might need. In optometry, patients could get reading glasses and sunglasses. In dental, the students helped assist dentists, sterilize instruments, and seat patients for their cleaning, filling, or extractions. After the patients were finished getting their work done, they were escorted to charla while their medications were getting filled in the pharmacy station. Charla was an important part of the clinical days because that is where patients were educated about the topics of women’s health, oral health, chronic disease and disease prevention, nutrition and exercising, and hydration. Charla literally means “conversation” so the goal of the Charla was to communicate with the local community members and make sure they have a full understanding of the health topics. This was vital in the long-term impact of the medical/dental brigade since a week is just not long enough to provide the full care that they need. After the presentations in charla, the patients were able to pick up their medications from the pharmacy and they were finished.

            Now that was the easy answer to “What did you do in Panama?”. After I tell you all of that, I would say that I did so much more. I could delve into the people I met, the lessons I’ve learned, the memories I’ve formed, and the relationships that I’ve built. I could say that we met the most welcoming and appreciative Panamanian families. I could say that we learned the lessons of open-mindedness, flexibility, and minimalism. I could talk about the close-knit community that we built among the students, health professionals, and Global Brigade staff members. I could tell you about the cold showers, muggy weather, and endless mosquito bites. Answering the question of “What did you do?” is easy, but not so easy. So next time you see my dad and I in the office, feel free to ask us “what we did” because we could give you so many answers.