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Costa Rica Mission a Success for New SOP Student Organization

During the 2010-2011 school year, roughly 30 students from the TTUHSC campus in Amarillo organized a student chapter for the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC). In May, 16 of those students, all incoming P2s from the SOP, traveled to Alajuelita, Costa Rica as part of a mission trip to provide free medical services to children in need.

Elena Doan, president for the FIMRC-TTUHSC-SOP student chapter, said the purpose of the mission was to provide free medical care to underserved children within communities that had little to no access to medical care. The location was selected from existing FIMRC clinic sites in Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Nicaragua, Peru and Uganda.

“Since this was our first mission trip, I wanted a location for us that would be both safe and less expensive for the volunteers, so Costa Rica was the best choice,” Doan said.

Time was a factor in raising funds for the mission because the group wasn’t able to start until the spring semester. The $2,000 cost for each student included plane tickets, transportation, food, lodging and a program donation that went to help supply the clinics in Costa Rica with pharmaceuticals.

Doan said the group received help from several Amarillo faculty members, including SOP Department Chair Dr. Cynthia Raehl, Regional Dean for the School of Health Professions Dr. Michael Hooton and SOP Associate Professor Dr. Eric MacLaughlin.

“Dr. Paul Lockman is our faculty advisor and he has been extremely supportive and helpful in getting our chapter started,” Doan said. “We would not have had such a successful turnout without him.”

Doan said SOP Assistant Professors Drs. Niambi Horton and Shawna King provided valuable insight from their experiences in planning mission trips for the Global Health Outreach elective clerkship. She said the group is also thankful to everyone who believed in and supported the organization through various fundraisers.

Having spent roughly 13 years working in retail pharmacy before entering pharmacy school, FIMRC Public Relations/Fund Raising Director Traci Pafford already had firsthand knowledge of the impact pharmacists can have on their patients. She said making such an impact within other cultures was equally gratifying.

“Seeing the faces of those children light up when they saw our group was indescribable,” Pafford said. “They understood we were there for them and we were a safe haven from the conditions and heartaches they endure daily. To be a part of the good experiences in a child’s life for that brief time is a fulfilling experience that will endure for the rest of my life.”

Myka McMeans, FIMRC-TTUHSC-SOP vice president, was also moved by the mission.

“It enhanced my knowledge and skills to better serve the people who need care,” McMeans said. “It also meant getting to spend quality time with those who are in desperate need and desire of attention and help.”

Doan said the mission complimented the clinical experiences that form the foundation of the SOP program. She said each mission participant gained a new perspective on their roles as pharmacists and most of them are now driven to take medical Spanish classes so they can effectively communicate with a broad spectrum of patients.

“We also participated in setting up and managing a small pharmacy without any guidance, which was definitely an unforgettable experience,” Doan said. “A lot of us were able to step in and become leaders when necessary, as well as work in a team setting in different areas of the clinic. This mission trip gave us the opportunity to apply knowledge we acquired in the classroom to a clinical setting and to help underserved children while doing so, which made it a very rewarding experience.”

In the coming year, Pafford said the organization will work to put together two foreign missions and will also investigate ways to conduct local missions to provide care to U.S. families.

“As a new organization, one of our key goals for next year is to increase membership so we can also increase the services we can provide,” Pafford said. “The officers will be holding a general meeting that will help to explain our chapter goals and give more students and faculty a chance to become involved. We are excited about the upcoming year.”