Students empowered from mission experience
My name is Ashley-Ann Walker. I am a third-year student on the medical education track here at SIU School of Medicine. I am interested in pursuing a surgical career, and I have a special interest in global health care. I grew up in Aurora and graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2020.
As a child of two immigrants from Jamaica, global health has always been an interest of mine. In 2019, I attended my first medical brigade trip to Honduras. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled subsequent trips, so I was eager to start SIU School of Medicine's Global Brigades chapter and serve as chapter president for the 2023 brigade to Panama.
Global Brigades is an international nonprofit organization that started in 2004. Its mission revolves around the holistic empowerment of under-resourced communities in Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Their goal is to collaborate with communities to help them overcome global poverty through a multi-disciplinary model. These disciplines include health care, economic development, water and sanitation. Through university volunteers and local staff members around the world, Global Brigades creates an infrastructure to resolve health and economic disparities.
Many universities throughout the U.S. have an associated medical, dental, business, public health or engineering chapter of Global Brigades that is entirely student-led. As volunteers, we had the freedom to select which country to visit as well as orchestrate our own fundraising process, pre-brigade educational curriculum and leadership team. Our chapter consists of seven SIU medical student volunteers who are passionate, empathetic and hard-working, dedicated to bettering the health of those in need. Third-year students Sophia Mounce and Stephanie Viteri serve as the chapter's fundraising chair and educational chair, respectively. Dr. Lauri Lopp is our faculty advisor. She’s a community-based family medicine physician, and an exceptional leader and role model.
Our chapter collected medical and dental supplies prior to our service trip. In total, we donated more than 300 toothbrushes, 700 tubes of toothpaste, 140 units of floss, 8 covid tests, 600 condoms, 100 bottles of soap, shampoo, conditioner and other medical supplies. In addition, we fundraised through community events in Springfield such as "Dine-to-Donate" evenings at Panda Express, a trivia night held at St. Joseph Church, and personal fundraisers through social media to assist in travel expenses and medical supply purchases.
In June, we traveled to Panama on a seven-day medical brigade. While immersing ourselves in Panamanian culture, we set up free clinics in two separate underserved communities, Higueronal and Cañazas. At our clinics we assisted in patient intake, history and physicals, filling prescriptions, medical documentation, and public health education. It is estimated that we treated more than 300 patients who otherwise would have limited-to-no access to health care. Throughout our trip, we were accompanied by Global Brigades staff, a small group of students from Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, a medical student from Georgetown University, a medical student from Washington University School of Medicine, two pre-medical students from the University of Illinois-Springfield, and Dr. Lopp's high school daughters.
How did this trip impact me? Empowered, grateful and determined are just a few of the words I would use to describe how I feel upon returning home. It’s empowering to understand and witness social determinants of health globally and working to alleviate barriers to health care. I am grateful to the people of Panama for welcoming our chapter with open arms, grateful for every donor who made this trip possible, and grateful for my newly formed friendships. Finally, I am determined to continue my engagement in global volunteerism and to use my medical education and experience to help ameliorate global health disparities.
Experiences like these are invaluable to me since it perfectly aligns with the core values of why I chose a career in medicine, SIU's Triple Aim + 1 — health care that is more effective, efficient, equitable and enjoyable! We hope to continue this chapter for years to come.