In recent years, hands-on learning opportunities have become a popular method for school districts to develop student career pathways.
However, members of the Future Health Professionals club at Durango High School are trying to take it to another level.
This summer, the students will be traveling to rural Panama, where they will set up a mobile medical clinic in the country under the guidance of the nonprofit organization Global Brigades.
“Travel is that one way that you can expand your horizons, and it’s definitely in our strategic plan that we are trying to build good global citizens who have awareness of the world and in the way that your skills could match those needs,” said Durango School District 9-R spokeswoman Karla Sluis.
Global Brigades is an organization that helps resolve inequalities around the world.
“We can have intake triage, primary health screening, a dental station of vision station, and a big part of it is a pharmacy as in getting medication to people who need it, whether (that’s) for disease, vaccination, birth control, anything like that,” said DHS sophomore Maddie DuBois.
However, the students will mostly focus on triage because they are not trained to administer vaccines. Dates for the trip are still not set because the club is still trying to raise money for it.
DuBois said it will likely cost between $35,000 and $40,000 to make the trip happen.
The goal is to raise about half that amount and then apply for a matching grant. DuBois said the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has already donated $500 to the cause.
The club is led by adviser Kyle Montgomery, who is the medical career pathways teacher at DHS. Montgomery teaches the students how to quickly and efficiently take vitals.
He said the “whole point of everything that I do” at DHS is to help create an opportunity for students to do such work if that’s what they want to do, rather than having students just think about wanting to do it.
Many of the students said the experience will be rewarding, but not without its challenges. One of the primary obstacles will be the language barrier. Luckily, sophomores Mia Sholes and Lastania Long both speak Spanish and would be able to help their fellow classmates communicate with people they’d help.
Sholes said the trip’s not only an opportunity to grow in the medical profession, but also as a linguist.
Long added that the trip’s an excellent opportunity for the students to learn more about themselves.
“There’s definitely a responsibility that comes with helping people who are already in this career,” Long said about working with Global Brigades.
Sophomore Sienna Rogers said the language barrier will be “pretty daunting,” but is preparing for such a responsibility.
“It’s a lot of responsibility and it’s really cool that we get this opportunity to have this responsibility,” she said.
For one of the older students, senior Grace McCrady, the trip will be a chance to see if the medical profession is something she wants to pursue as she heads off to college next year.
“I haven’t declared my major or anything,” she said. “But this will definitely give me an insight into how to work in the medical field.”
McCrady also said the students have conducted simulations in class, but it’s different when the patient is a stranger.
The students could spend between eight and 10 days in Panama, but nothing has been finalized yet.
“It’s just going to be absolutely eye opening,” DuBois said. “I mean, we learn and read a lot in our classroom, but to actually take those skills and apply them in the real world is going to be really impactful. Especially in a way where we’re helping people who don’t have the same medical care that we do.”
Other students like sophomore Esme Adams are not only excited to help people, but to also experience another culture and travel. She said it will likely be a culture shock to see the difference in available medical resources between Panama and the United States.
“I hope and pray that we can just help those people,” she said.
In a report from Borgen Magazine, there were about 1.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people in rural Panama in 2015.
Those interested in donating to the students’ cause can do so online at fundraise.globalbrigades.org.