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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Feel-good Clinical Experience

Community Service: Student group Global Health Brigades offers opportunities for hands-on learning through medical help in underserved countries

By Bonny Osterhage

When predental student Taylor Trimmer joined the Global Health Brigades student group at UTSA, it was because she wanted to travel while gaining experience in her field. She had no idea that she would “fall in love with the organization,” she says. “I am involved with Global Brigades simply because it is an amazing organization,” says Trimmer, who now serves as one of the treasurers and fundraising chairs. “Our members get a chance to change the lives of thousands of people across the world while getting hands-on experience that they most likely wouldn’t get here in the United States.”

Global Health Brigades is a national organization with chapters at multiple universities across the country. According to Larriel Shaw, national education chair, the purpose is to develop sustainable health initiatives and provide relief in countries where there is limited access to health care. Students in the medical and dental brigade spend seven to nine days in areas such as Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua, where they gain experience in taking patient vital signs and history and work with licensed doctors on consultations.

Hands-on learning aside, there is another, even greater component to the trips, according to Shaw. “The purpose is to not only gain clinical experience by shadowing physicians and dentists,” she explains, “but also open the eyes of the members to what it is like to live without health care. We show them some of the things we take for granted as Americans.” Some of those things include restrooms, septic tanks, and laundry rooms, which students were able to build for three families in need on a recent trip to Nicaragua.

“The most rewarding part of that trip was seeing not only the end results of our hard work but even more so how much these families appreciated what we did for them,” Shaw says. “Our team leaders were so proud of how we worked together, placing the mission first and accomplishing our goals.”

The organization is open to all interested students, who receive training. Destinations are chosen via officer vote, and members are provided with fundraising opportunities, including an online portal where family and friends can donate to a trip that, for many of these students, is a life changer. “This organization has taught me to be grateful for every second of every day that I get to make an impact on others,” Trimmer says. “I’ve learned that no person is too small to make a difference.”

UTSA Engaged is the new volunteer matching portal, operated by the Center for Civic Engagement. Students, faculty, and staff can find an array of volunteer opportunities to sign up for, based on individual interests.


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