Lending a Helping Hand

It is easy to forget that there is a Third World country a few miles south of us, where living conditions are much different and health care is not an option for most people. Just south of Ensenada, however, lies a small medical clinic that UCSD students organize and run free of charge. In March, I went down with a UCSD group called Alpha Epsilon Delta to document the work that they do south of the border.

Exam: A student is shown here guiding Yuvaire Elizabeth Marquez through the process of reading an eye chart.

AED is a national honors pre-medical society that UCSD became a part of two years ago, and consists of roughly 300 pre-med students. Though they do many things to educate themselves about the medical field (including organizing the first UCSD pre-med group forum), the main endeavor of AED at UCSD is the medical clinic.

AED shares the clinic with another pre-med group on campus that is called the Flying Sams, both of which try to go down one Saturday per month. They bring doctors with specializations that include pediatrics, women’s care and general practice. The patients they get depend on the specialization of the doctor.

The students walk the patients through step-by-step. They welcome the patients in and provide the preliminary care, which involves asking the patients what their problems are, taking vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse, and staying with patients until the doctor is done with them. The students do as much as they possibly can but never anything they are not trained for. They treat patients until there are no more to treat, which is usually around 10 to 15 patients per day, though there has been an increase since the beginning of the year as more people learn about the program.

Vital: AED president Cal Aboulhson takes the pulse of Luis Fernando Marquez. The students take vital signs of the patients and lead them through a rigorous medical examination.

Volunteering at the medical clinic is educational for the students because they get hands-on experience that many feel is not available on this side of the border. Being able to walk the patients through each step, working with the doctors and asking them questions exposes students to many important aspects of medical and patient care.

The patients who come to the clinic for treatment are much different than patients you see in the United States, according to Ethan Egan, current officer for campus affairs and future president of AED.

“”People down there don’t go to a doctor unless they seem to really need it,”” Egan said.

When the group went down in November, about 10 of the roughly 15 patients had serious problems. One of those patients was a baby who was extremely malnourished and had severe breathing problems.

“”You could just hear this baby trying to gasp for air,”” said Asal Shoushtari, vice president of AED.

It turns out that the baby had severe bronchitis as well as a bacterial infection, which prevented her from being able to absorb food into her body. Fortunately, they were able to treat the baby.

“”At the end of the day, to see the relief on the mother’s face was really nice because she had gone to so many doctors and finally someone was telling her what was wrong,”” Shoushtari said.

Amanda Lamond, who is in charge of running the clinic, once dealt with a woman who had breast cancer and a pain in her spine that they thought might be a sign that the cancer had moved there. They were lucky to have found a place nearby that was able to give her X-rays, which Lamond then took to the doctor.

“”I was shaking when I went into the room with the X-rays,”” Lamond said.

When she informed the woman that the cancer hadn’t moved, the lady started crying and thanked Lamond profusely.

“”I will never forget that,”” she said.

Working at the clinic has really touched the students. It has been a learning experience, not only about health care and medicine, but also about the conditions people live in elsewhere in the world.

“”I am gaining an understanding of what health care is like in a Third World country … it’s very primitive,”” Lamond said. “”They don’t have the same opportunities that we do here.””

The locals are very welcoming to the group, according to AED.

“”The people down there are so warm and genuine and happy that we’re here to help them,”” Egan said.

Once, a lady was so grateful that she brought tamales for everyone.

“”These people don’t have much money, and for them to do something like that is very powerful,”” Shoushtari said.

AED member Nick Athanasiou was happy to do the work.

“”We really are making a difference,”” Athanasiou said. “”We are making this possible for them, and that’s really gratifying.””

The group gets along very well with each other and has become like a family. They are able to work well together, even when there is a lot going on.

“”It’s an example of how students can work together and achieve something together,”” Shoushtari said.

This has been an integral year for the clinic, as it is the first year they have worked in Ensenada. At the beginning of the year, they moved from Tecate to their current location because the facility in Tecate was not large enough to hold a general practitioner clinic. They are still growing, trying to get more medicine, more doctors and be of more service to the people who need care.

AED’s main problem is finding doctors to go to Mexico with them. They currently have two doctors who are willing to come down, but they desperately need more.

The doctors are ecstatic about working down there and helping the people out — it is an enriching experience for them as well.

AED is planning to create a presentation to show at hospitals to get more doctors involved, and hopefully the number of doctors will increase next year.

“”We are all looking forward to the day when we can come back [as doctors] and help out,”” Egan said.

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