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by Gail Marsh
(June 16)Physician assistant students from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi hope to visit Bolivia this summer to practice their medical skills at a rural health clinic.
"I believe a volunteer medical venture such as this can benefit both the people we serve as well as the participating students," said Gretchen Journigan, a junior in A-B's physician assistant program and organizer of the medical mission trip.
The trip is being arranged through Peacework, a non-profit development organization based in Blacksburg, Va.
Journigan said she checked out 50 to 60 organizations on the Internet before she decided to link up with Peacework.
"They seemed to best understand what we wanted to do and were able to arrange a good time frame for our trip," she said.
Group members have been busy trying to raise the $1,700 per person that is needed to cover their two-week stay.
"We've had car washes, a raffle and had an information booth at the Blue and Gray Festival in Philippi. But we still need more help," Journigan said.
Six members of A-B's physician assistant program will be joined by approximately six other volunteers who are familiar with the program. They will spend two weeks in August working with the medical staff in Montero, a low-lying tropical area with a population of about 70,000. Four students are currently taking an elective medical Spanish course to prepare for the trip.
Journigan said students intend to assist the clinic's doctors, but she suspects they will also help with some ongoing construction work at the medical facility.
"I've found that you have to be flexible on trips like these, to throw out your agendas and help where you are needed. We may work in the clinic in the morning and help lay block in the afternoon," she said.
Journigan, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1991-1994, said health problems in developing countries are much different than the problems they study in American schools.
"Here, we learn that heart disease is the nation's No. 1 killer, but in countries such as Bolivia, dysentery remains the most serious problem. People die of dehydration from diarrhea all the time, so we'll be gaining invaluable medical experience," she said.
Journigan said it will be necessary to take shots before the trip and to guard against ingesting poor quality water and food while in South America. Cholera, malaria, Dengue fever, yellow fever and parasite infections are common in Bolivia.
Though the trip is meant to help the residents of Montero, Journigan said she knows the experience will be life-changing for the volunteers.
"Hopefully, the students will come away with a broader perspective to realize that medical needs aren't just something that exist in this country, but that there are great needs all around the world," she said.
Before enrolling in A-B last year, Journigan worked as a bilingual health educator and interpreter at a Hispanic migrant clinic in North Carolina. After finishing her degree at A-B, Journigan hopes to work in a rural area in this country, while spending part of her time overseas.
"There are real challenges out there if we take the time to look for them. It can be very rewarding work," she said.
To learn more about the trip or make a donation, people can contact Journigan at (304)457-1113.