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Shoulder to Shoulder Sends Health Brigade to Ecuador

Shoulder to Shoulder Global recently led 49 University of Kentucky students, faculty, staff and community members in a multidisciplinary health brigade experience to Santo Domingo, Ecuador.

STSG is a UK-based organization that strives to improve the health and well-being of impoverished communities while offering learners the opportunity to work in a multicultural and interdisciplinary setting.

The brigade, which took place Aug. 2-11, was the culmination of months of preparation that included the credit-bearing course, "Interprofessional Teamwork in Global Health." Throughout the course, students learned about Ecuador, how to work in an interprofessional environment and how to apply basic principles of cultural anthropology, sociology, diversity and health care to the brigade experience.

"The Shoulder to Shoulder Global experience was a phenomenal way to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate as well as build great relationships with amazing, big-hearted people who care as much as I do," said internal medicine resident Pavan Kapadia.  

During the brigade, participants worked directly with patients and community members, providing care in areas such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, communication disorders and public health.

Students from the College of Arts and Sciences supplied Spanish interpretation skills at the Centro Médico Hombro a Hombro and two Tsáchilas (indigenous community) villages. Students and faculty also had the opportunity to make home visits.  

In addition, the STSG Student Association raised funds to pay for lab work to check for parasites in more than 700 school children, while the pharmacy students helped raise money to pay for needed treatment.

"The brigade inspired a unique sense of passion within me for those in need and built a strong base for my future endeavors in international service," said participant Rooshil Patel, a senior in biology and president of the STSG Student Association.

Christopher Terry, president of the UK College of Pharmacy Class of 2015, said the experience was unparalleled for him in terms of learning and growing. 

"To see health care professionals practice with such fervor and impact a community that needed it more than words can describe was inspiring, to say the least," he said.

The Physician Assistant Studies program, located in the College of Health Sciences, participated with three students and a faculty member.

Erin Walker, a recent graduate of the program, says she was amazed at the warmth and welcoming spirit of the Ecuadorian people.

"They taught me about finding happiness despite the disadvantages that life may throw your way," she said. "Rather than accentuating our differences, the brigade revealed just how similar we all are as human beings and how important it is to take care of one another."

John Wright Polk IV, president of the Department of Physical Therapy Class of 2014, said the experience was one he will remember for a lifetime.

"I was amazed at the number of people we were able to see and help during the brigade in Ecuador," he said. "This is one experience I will never forget and has given me a desire to help underserved communities in the future with my skills as a physical therapist."

The College of Dentistry students and faculty provided much needed dental care while connecting with patients at an insightful level.  

“Ecuador taught me unexpected things not only about life outside of the United States, but also about myself," said dentistry student Mindy Gerakos.

Claudia Hopenhayn, faculty in the College of Public Health and chair of STSG said the experience was valuable for all who participated. 

"It's a unique opportunity for students at all levels to get academic credit while experiencing a different culture and language, working in a multidisciplinary team and learning how to be resourceful in a variety of unfamiliar resource-limited settings," she said. "As many students have shared with STSG, the short experience provides a lasting personal and professional impact."

Shoulder to Shoulder Global welcomes applications for next year’s brigades to Ecuador. Dates for the 2014 brigades are: March 15-23, May 16-25 and Aug. 8-17. Application information and a short video about the program are available at the STSG website: http://www.uky.edu/international/shoulder_to_shoulder