James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.


JMU Students Have Opportunity to Work at Rural Health Clinics in Central America

March 12, 2006
By: Amanda Rivera

PHOTO: Central AmericaTrading winter-break jobs at the mall for the chance to treat fungal infections and parasites, a group of pre-health students from JMU traveled to Central America to work at rural health clinics. Through International Service Learning, students were afforded the opportunity to work in underprivileged areas providing medical, dental, and optical care. While the participants were split up among various destinations, two students proved that the experiences were shared.

As they left the States the day after Christmas, Senior Pre-PA/Health Sciences major Katie Pennisi and Junior Nursing major Meredith Strickland were unsure of what to expect when they reached their respective destinations. Arriving in Nicaragua and working at the clinics in Blue Fields and Pearl Lagoon, Katie notes that a majority of the patients seen by the students suffered from fungal and parasitic ailments. “[There were] a lot of ongoing problems where there wasn’t much for us to do besides give them medicine,” she says. Meredith relays that the same was true for clinics in Costa Rica, and she feels her previous training equipped her to handle most situations. “Being a nursing major I felt pretty prepared. I only had a semester, but I knew about vitals and a lot of meds, using that knowledge I had and assessing what we thought they had trying to come to a diagnosis,” she says.

Despite their medical background, the students did find themselves a little “lost in translation.” Meredith says, “It was a little chaotic, so we kind of had to roll with the punches and kind of go with the flow.” With most only speaking a little Spanish, the students were forced to completely submerge themselves in the language, absorbing what they could. “You definitely do pick it up and you don’t have to understand every single word that they say, especially when a lot of people are coming in for the same things, you do end up hearing the same symptoms and complaints,” Katie says.

PHOTO: Central AmericaWhile interacting with the local children, however, the students found that play was a universal language. Both Katie and Meredith noted their most memorable times as the ones they spent with the Central American children. Katie fondly recalls their unwavering fascination with digital cameras. “All they kept saying was ‘Take my picture, take my picture!” which she says initiated a lengthy cycle of taking pictures and then showing them to the children on the camera screen. “They don’t get [a lot of] strangers to come into their neighborhood, let alone strangers that come in that want to play with them,” states Katie. Staying overnight in an Indian jungle, Meredith also created bonds with the children, one young boy in particular. Reminiscing, she says that she showed him how to use her stethoscope and at the end of the trip she gave him a ball as a parting gift: “He definitely stands out in my memory when I think about the trip.”

Following in the footsteps of the children they met, the students participated in a little play of their own, experiencing different excursion trips with their groups. While Meredith went snorkeling off the Nicaraguan coast, Katie rode a zip-line around a volcano in Panama. However, work wasn’t completely abandoned. While at the beach New Year’s Day, Katie’s group learned how to suture using grocery-store chicken. As unexpected as this may have been, Meredith says that it was important to be flexible while on the trip. “[Our group] had to swim across/trek across a river that we weren’t quite prepared for, but it was fun,” she says.

Returning back home the day before their new semester began, Meredith and Katie say that they hope to return someday. “I definitely want to go on another ISL trip…That’s part of the reason that I went on the trip because I know that it’s something I want to do; go to underdeveloped countries and practice medicine,” says Katie. Meredith wholeheartedly agrees, explaining, “It definitely gave me more confidence interacting with people, especially from different cultures.” They also recommend the trip to others, stressing the importance of experiencing different cultures. Katie says, “You go in thinking you’re going to meet some people and learn some new things, but it’s so much more than what you could ever expect. It really does make you look at life in a whole other perspective and makes you realize how grateful you should be for everything you have.”