Dr. Mari Kay Evans-Smith, Dr. Pilar Buerk, and Medical Assistant Stephanie McIntyre from our Portland office recently returned from their whirlwind volunteer medical trip to The Gambia, West Africa. Although this was the 20th medical trip that Dr. Evans-Smith has organized, this was the first trip to The Gambia. Together, over the course of 5 clinic days, the volunteer team of 53 individuals served 1,257 patients. The team was made up of 23 healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistant, dentist, and optometrist) and volunteers from the Portland area as well as 30 Gambians including local healthcare professionals, and students, teachers, and coaches of Kalabash Academy where the clinic was set up.
As you can imagine, organization and preparation for a medical trip like this took several months. In fact, Dr. Evans-Smith and Foday Kabba (founder of the Academy) met every 2-3 weeks beginning last August. Additionally, the whole team had to prepare medically with supplies, familiarize themselves with health conditions they may encounter, and educate themselves on the Gambian culture to be able to connect with the community as much as possible. On top of this, COVID precautions had to be planned to keep everyone safe. Needless to say, after months of preparation and unknowns of the pandemic, the team was anxious to get started once they finally arrived in The Gambia last month!
By the first day of clinic, there was already a long line of patients waiting at the entrance. All patients who came through had an opportunity to move through each “station” that was applicable to them: COVID screening and testing; triage to check vital signs like blood pressure, height, and weight; lab to check for anemia, malaria, HIV, and diabetes; education classes on women’s health concerns or nutrition for diabetics and those with high blood pressure; dentistry for preventive fluoride treatments, basic oral hygiene, and dental extractions; optometry for vision exams and free reading glasses/sunglasses; and lastly, the pharmacy for any necessary medications. To best care for each patient, the whole team had to work together and rely on each other. Pediatric Associates Medical Assistant, Stephanie McIntyre, was thrilled to be in charge of the vital signs station and helping to direct patients to different areas. The medical interpreters were integral as well, each speaking 4-5 different languages!
After finishing up with patients at the clinic, everyone was able to spend a few days immersing themselves in the local community and culture. They visited a local hospital and spoke with the doctors there, gaining a better understanding of the healthcare challenges they face. They also got to experience a true safari walk where they came up close and personal with lions and fed monkeys! Fortunately, everyone survived with all fingers and toes accounted for!
Throughout the week, the team had a chance to interact with the students and teachers of Kalabash Academy. All the school supplies we received from our patient families last Fall have been donated to the Academy, which provides science, math, and English classes and soccer training alongside character development and community-building. We are grateful for the continued generosity of our patients, allowing us to serve communities locally and around the world.
Caring for others beyond the walls of our practice has always been at the core of Pediatric Associates, and we are thankful for the inspiring dedication shown by Dr. Evans-Smith, Dr. Buerk, and Stephanie McIntyre during this year’s medical trip.
If you would like to support future volunteer medical trips, the team gladly accepts used suitcases with wheels in good condition (for transportation of supplies) and small stuffed animals like Beanie Babies (to be given to young patients). These items can be brought to any of our offices anytime.