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Professor offers details on medical service trip

GUATEMALA: Professor Jeff Osborne gives a presentation on Manchester University’s medical practicum at the North Manchester Public Library on Wednesday.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@wabashplaindealer.com

NORTH MANCHESTER — Jeff Osborne, a professor of chemistry at Manchester University, gave a presentation on a recent medical practicum trip to Guatemala to members of the Shepherd’s Center in North Manchester on Wednesday.

Now held in the North Manchester Public Library, the Shepherd’s Center holds a weekly discussion on current events with an Adventures in Learning segment, where the group hears from a guest speaker on recent travels, global issues or simply interesting pastimes.

Osborne said the medical practicum course predates his time at Manchester. Retired doctor Ed Miller helped start the program in 1981. Now, 35 trips later, the expedition and practicum course has swelled to a group of 55 medical students and practitioners with a mission to serve poverty stricken communities in Guatemala. The Millers have recently set up a scholarship for students in the practicum to help fund the trip as well.

During their three-week stay in the central highland region, which Osborne said is the central location for poverty and lack of medical care in Guatemala, medical students see the application and practice of pediatric and adult care, dentistry, reproductive care and lab testing. When the trip used to be held in Nicaragua, Osborne said there was an opportunity for veterinary students too. However, he said the change in Nicaragua’s political climate has prevented them from continuing their work in the country.

Osborne said the communication barrier is overcome through translators, sometimes multiple ones for the unique indigenous languages in Guatemala. He said despite the industrial developments by the U.S. and other countries in Guatemala, the 27 different indigenous groups have maintained their spoken word and “strong identities” in the region. In their medical practice, a translator is often needed to translate English questions to Spanish, and Spanish questions to Q’eqchi’ or Poqomchi’, the primary indigenous languages spoken in the area where they worked. 

“It’s an interesting game of telephone, but doing this highlights the importance of communication in healthcare for students,” he said.

During their visit, Osborne said school was cancelled so students could visit the medical staff, which also freed up a place to stay. After three weeks of eating rice, beans and tortillas, sleeping under a mosquito net and “taking showers out of a bucket,” Osborne said the students have a new appreciation for life at home and a new found direction in medicine. He said the program at Manchester has turned out 91 physicians, 21 dentists, 26 pharmacists, 12 physician assistants, 22 nurses and seven medical technologists.

“The cultural aspect oftentimes sneaks up on students,” he said. “It’s impactful, learning of a different way of life … For these people, next level healthcare is usually six hours away and costs a few weeks pay.”

Miller listened to Osborne’s presentation Wednesday and said he is pleased with how the program has grown, and that the experience has largely remained the same.

“People come back appreciating the comfort of their hot showers after they realize the majority of the world isn’t accustomed to that,” he said. “The practicum has certainly helped a lot of people and I hope it continues to do that.”

Osborne said they’re accepting applications for the trip until the end of March.