Southeast Students Travel to Honduras on Medical Mission Trip

For the past two summers, Southeast Missouri State University’s Global Medical Brigades chapter, a group of pre-med students, has extended a helping hand, traveling to Honduras for nine days to help organize and implement global health equality.

Global Brigades is the largest student-led movement for global health and holistic development. It is an international non-profit organization that empowers communities in Central America and West Africa to enhance programs related to public health, water, human rights, dental, engineering, business and medical issues.

Since its inception, the Global Brigades program has treated 1,124,479 patients, invested $489,435 in community banks and businesses, given 16,341 people access to clean water, and has trained and equipped 351 communities.

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Southeast’s Global Medical Brigades chapter began in February 2016. Dr. James Champine, chair of the Department of Biology, has assisted in the organization of the Global Brigades trips. Alexis Engelhart is the student founder of the Global Medical Brigades chapter, and Julie Anne Offenbecher has also played a large role in making this mission trip possible.

Southeast student Alexis Engelhart.

“Bringing Global Medical Brigades to Southeast has been my biggest and most memorable achievement so far. It’s very rewarding to see the happiness, opportunities and success it brings students,” Engelhart said.

Through Global Medical Brigades, Southeast students volunteered with trained professionals to provide health services to people who live in rural communities and have limited access to health care.

“Going on my first brigade was gratifying, and the same feeling was felt after the second one. On our first brigade, we were one of the first medical brigades to come to this particular community. It was very eye-opening to see the extreme need for the medical clinic in this rural community,” Engelhart said.

During the nine-day trip, three of the days are spent focusing on a medical clinic, and another three days on a public health project. Southeast students built eco-stoves, latrines, water storage units, showers and concrete floors. Students also got the opportunity to shadow local and foreign doctors as they provided consultations and medications to the patients in Honduras.

“Although I loved the medical part of the brigade, the public health portion was my favorite part of both brigades. It’s a beautiful and indescribable thing to experience the love and appreciation from the families after giving them something as simple as a concrete floor,” Engelhart said.

The trip to Honduras not only made a lasting impact on the students’ lives, but it also helped them prepare for their careers as future medical professionals.

“The students gain in a number of ways,” Champine said. “First, the transcultural experience is significant. There has always been a standard of professional advice to ‘internationalize yourself.’  Second, it makes the medical school applicant stand out. At a national meeting of the Alpha Epsilon Delta national honorary society, there was considerable advice to participate in a medical mission trip abroad for this purpose. Third, physicians need some very hard to measure attributes, namely altruism and empathy. It is often the case that the personal statements of the medical school applicants address what they saw and what they felt on these trips.”

For the past two years a group of about 20 volunteers participated in the trip. Students studying any major are invited to join, but it is especially beneficial for any students pursuing careers in the medical field.

“It’s a very humbling and rewarding experience, and I hope more students become interested in this opportunity,” Engelhart added.

For more information, contact Champine in the Southeast Department of Biology at (573) 651-2170 or jchampine@semo.edu.