Students gain education as volunteers, an ocean apart

Upstate respiratory therapy student Adlin Noel takes blood pressure at a clinic in Ghana.

Upstate respiratory therapy student Adlin Noel takes blood pressure at a clinic in Ghana.

Spring and summer breaks don’t necessarily mean sunny beaches for students who are training for careers in the health professions. Upstate students volunteer for additional medical experience and training at sites all over the world.

“We are continually trying to build our repertoire of international medically related educational opportunities,” says Sue Stearns, PhD, director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “We encourage our students to explore new horizons but are always concerned about their safety as well as the value of their experiences.”

Respiratory therapy roommates Stephen Johnson and Adlin Noel spent some of their break between classes last year in countries on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Johnson headed to the jungles of Honduras for what turned out to be “the highlight of my medical experiences.” He volunteered with an organization called Adventure in Missions and spent four weeks providing care to hundreds of families.

He found reactive airways disease, or asthma, was prevalent. This is because household kitchens there are almost always thatch huts right next to the homes. “The black smoke from the stove rises and quickly fills up the kitchen hut, and children breath this their entire lives. The constant airways irritation leads to the development of chronic inflammation and narrowing of the bronchioles, which then leads to asthma-like symptoms.” Johnson distributed many metered dose inhalers to help treat acute bronchospasms.

Noel volunteered with medical and nursing students for two weeks last summer to provide rural medical care in Nicaragua. He jumped at the opportunity earlier this year to deliver medical care to people in rural villages of Ghana through the Americans Serving Abroad Projects. The trip was organized by Upstate nurse Lauri Rupracht. As part of his work there, Noel conducted research that revealed a significant lack of knowledge of the detrimental effects of smoking among villagers.

Noel says his experience “renewed my purpose as a future health professional to respond to the medical needs of those less fortunate.”

He also inspired other respiratory therapy students to seek out international opportunities. Catie Zopf and Alex Tabone traveled to Nicaragua this summer along with nine Upstate medical students as volunteers helping rural health care providers.

Johnson says his experience in Honduras “has given me an entirely new perspective on what it means to serve, and a renewed drive to make sure I am providing the best care when they do find themselves in my hospital.”

Adlin Noel and Stephen Johnson graduated from Upstate's respiratory therapy program.

Adlin Noel and Stephen Johnson graduated from Upstate’s respiratory therapy program.

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