Emergency medicine faculty lead transformative service learning trip for UW health professions students

Mentors, students and local health promoters enjoy ice cream after a long day of providing medical care to local patients

UW-Madison health professions students embarked on two, 2-week service learning trips to Guatemala this summer as part of an interdisciplinary, advanced global health elective through the UW Office of Global Health. Students provided mentored direct patient care to more than 500 patients in the local community, many of them living in rural areas.

The UW has partnered with local health experts and NGOs in the San Lucas Tolimán region of Guatemala for more than a decade to provide sustainable medical care that is responsive to the specific needs of the communities the Friends of San Lucas mission serves.

Traveling were 15 medical and pharmacy students, led by faculty from multiple health professions program areas at the University of Wisconsin, including Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Pharmacy, and the Physician Assistant program. They were joined by advanced practice providers and graduates of the BerbeeWalsh Department Emergency Medicine’s residency Program.

Dr. Jessica Schmidt with Dr. Azita Hamedani and her daughter
Dr. Jessica Schmidt (left) with Dr. Azita Hamedani (right) and her daughter

Jessica Schmidt, MD, MPH, one of the elective’s three course directors and a long-time faculty mentor through the program, says that “working alongside UW students and Guatemalan health promoters to serve the people of the San Lucas Tolíman communities is a transformative experience filled with humanism and gratitude.”

This is the first time since in four years that students have been able to travel to the country as part of their learning experience at UW-Madison, after the service trips were put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am so thankful we were able to return after a long hiatus and look forward to returning with a new group of students next year,” says Schmidt.

A typical day for students consists of organizing supplies for the day, traveling to a clinic site, and holding clinic in the morning and afternoon. While at the clinics, students work in groups to screen patients, conduct histories and physical examinations, and then present patients to the providers for evaluation. Each evening, there is a teaching session provided by UW faculty to discuss topics related to patient care, global health, social determinants of health, and other topics of interest.

Weekends are usually free for sightseeing or other activities. In addition to medical care, there are several community projects that the Mission coordinates and students are able to participate in these projects as time allows. These include reforestation, construction, coffee picking/ processing, and stove building.

The BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine thanks the service of its faculty for their leadership: Jessica Schmidt, MD, MPH, Jim Svenson, MD, and Azita Hamedani, MD, MPH, MBA, as well as Jimmy Clark, PA-C, and residency alumni Sam Zidovetzki, MD, MPH ’16 and Clark Brewer, MD ’17.

View a photo gallery from the trips