Students from two Samuel Merritt University programs will get the chance to use their medical skills and improve their Spanish when they travel to Panama and Peru this month.

On Friday, 14 students from the university's family nurse practitioner program will travel to Panamato work with the nonprofit organization Global Medical Brigades.

On Saturday, 18 students and one faculty member from the physician assistant program will travel to Peru, where they will work for a week — either at an urban hospital in Trujillo or a rural hospital in Agallpampa, which is at 10,000 feet in the Andes.

The students from the nurse practitioner program originally were going to work in Honduras, but the political situation there made Global Medical Brigades change the plans. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office by the military in June.

The students, who will be accompanied by three professors, will provide acute care, treating patients with scabies, respiratory infections, high blood pressure and abdominal pain. They also will treat people with infections, sexually transmitted diseases and suture wounds and perform minor surgical procedures, such as mole removal.

The five days in Panama will be a learning experience for students and professors, including physician assistant department chair Michael DeRosa, who will travel with the students.


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"The medicine is complicated by the lack of resources," DeRosa said. "It forces you to think."

Meanwhile, the students from the physician assistant program are working through the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children.

Physician assistant student Brett Sibley organized the trip for the physician assistant program because many of the other programs at Samuel Merritt had done international trips, but not that program. She said she thought it would be a good opportunity for students to practice their medical skills and their Spanish.

The students will assist doctors in the exam room and record vital signs. Besides the work in hospitals, they also will run health education workshops teaching children how to brush their teeth, explaining the importance of hygiene and washing hands and demonstrating the treatment of minor cuts.

The students also will speak to adults about the importance of safe and hygienic water treatment and cooking practices.

When the students return to the Bay Area, they will be able to collaborate more based on their experiences in the Latin American countries, organizers said.