By Assistant Professors Audrey Kane & Supriya Sen
For the first time this Summer, the OT Department participated in a VCU HOMBRE trip.The Humanitarian Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort or HOMBRE seeks to improve the health of underserved communities in developing countries, and at the same time provides opportunities to enhance the education of students in health professions. VCU HOMBRE has been operating for years in places such as Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Peru. This particular trip was to a new location in Zana, Peru. Two grad II students, Katie Penn and Kaelah Pou, and two faculty, Audrey Kane and Supriya Sen, joined the Peru team. Other members of the team included physicians from the US and Peru, nurse practitioners, a physician’s assistant, students from the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the Department of Physical Therapy, as well as undergraduate students from the University of Richmond.
Preparation for the trip began in January. All participating students enrolled in a course offered through the Department of Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care. Topics of the course included global health and healthcare disparities, as well as preparation for the clinical experience. OT students and faculty, and PT students also participated in a journal club where these themes were continued. So, after six months of preparation, the trip became a reality.
Located about 13 hours north of Lima, the town of Zana, Peru is home to several hundred people, with a small health outpost that is open during business hours, M-F. The closest emergency care is located about 15 minutes away, and there is a larger hospital 45 minutes away, but the time and cost of traveling can be prohibitive for Zana residents. We spent a few days providing services in Zana, and other days were spent in neighboring villages that had no healthcare services available. The villages offered school buildings for us to set up our clinic.
Clients who came to the clinic were triaged and directed to a healthcare provider. From there, referrals were made to OT and PT as needed. Our days were very busy, with 20 – 43 clients per day, being seen by OT and PT. Many clients had osteoarthritis of the knees, back pain, neck pain, and other conditions that are the result of the agrarian culture. Clients were evaluated and then provided with intervention aimed to relieve current pain and/or minimize the risk for future conditions, injury or pain. Several clients were evaluated for assistive devices, which were purchased and delivered in the second week of the trip.
The trip was very rewarding in many respects. The clients that were served were incredibly grateful and it was not uncommon for them to offer blessings and hugs and kisses on their departure. While some conditions/complaints were not able to be directly addressed, clients appeared grateful for the occasion to have a listening ear and to tell their stories. The families and individuals that housed and fed us were daily reminders of what unselfish giving looks like. As clinicians and preceptors, it was rewarding to see the increase in confidence and clinical problem-solving of our students. We hope that this experience has reinforced that kindness and empathy are essential for the practice of OT.