As the bus carrying Philadelphia University student medical volunteers pulled into the rural Ghanaian community of Ekumfi Techiman, hundreds of clapping, smiling children ran to greet those on board.
“When we got off the bus, we each had four kids glued to us,” Hannah Breneman, a rising third-year physician assistant studies student, said of the experience.
Breneman was part of a group of 35 undergraduate students who traveled to Ghana with PhilaU’s Global Medical Brigades chapter from May 25 to June 4 to provide free medical services to those without access to quality health care. Another group of 18 graduate physician assistant studies students and program director Jesse Coale will provide medical care in Honduras from July 19 to 25.
In Ghana, the students worked out of a local school to help with triage, medical consultations, pharmacy, OB-GYN and dental hygiene stations, as part of a mobile medical clinic.
“The community we went to had a ratio of one physician for every 48,000 people,” said Kelly Wong, a nurse practitioner for PhilaU’s student health services who went on the Ghana medical service trip. “The types of illnesses we saw were anything from an ear infection to a skin infection to malaria.”
Working with an interpreter, students assessed the patients’ medical complaints, helped health care providers create treatment plans, and worked with a pharmacist to fill and distribute medications, as well as educate patients on how to take the medications.
The group treated 800 people in four days, leaving a positive impact on a culture where access to medical care and equipment is limited. And, as a result of the group’s fundraising efforts this spring, the PhilaU students were able to bring more than $30,000 worth of medical supplies and medications—as well as a few soccer balls—to Ghana.
Soccer, it turns out, is wildly popular in Ghana, and something that PhilaU star lacrosse midfielder Libby Nichols, who also played competitive soccer, knows something about.
“We played a Ghana vs. the United States soccer game right before the World Cup,” said Nichols, a 2014 pre-medical studies graduate and Fulbright Scholar, who will study head injuries from heading the soccer ball in Germany this year. “They were all barefoot and they still beat us three to one.”
As president of PhilaU’s Global Medical Brigades chapter, Nichols helped organize the trip. “I’ve done other mission trips, so I’ve seen what this type of poverty looks like, but you never get used to seeing how differently other people live in different parts of the world,” Nichols said. “It was a very humbling experience. I think they made a bigger impact on us than even we had on them.”
“I did not expect to be so greatly impacted by the amount of gratitude the Ghanaians expressed,” Amanda McGurk, a sophomore majoring in health sciences, said. “The appreciation of the village, as well as the adorable children that flocked to us from day one, made it very hard to leave. The Global Medical Brigades trip to Ghana was a life-changing experience.”
The trip, while open to students in all majors, offered a unique opportunity for students to gain real-world medical experience as undergraduates. “If students are interested in science, but are unsure if they want to go into direct patient care, they have an opportunity to directly interact with patients and shadow practitioners,” Wong said of the Ghana experience.
Breneman said the trip gave her valuable exposure to different medical needs. “I have always been interested in dermatology,” she said. “This experience opened my eyes to the primary care and family-care setting.”