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Students Gain New Perspectives While Volunteering with MEDLIFE

Seven hundred and twenty one. That’s the number of people who benefitted from the work that juniors Michelle Axe, a biochemistry and molecular biology major with a minor in chemistry, and Sarah Uhlenbrock, an allied health major with a minor in religion, in one week while on a medical mission trip to Riobamba, Ecuador with MEDLIFE. MEDLIFE is a volunteer organization that provides healthcare, education and community development to underserved populations.

“To have been involved in the care of 721 people over a week’s time was a remarkable experience,” Axe said. “The fact that these people now have basic knowledge about their healthcare and were able to get the various treatments they needed was by the far the most rewarding aspect of my trip.”

Uhlenbrock said they would travel about two hours to small villages to set up the mobile MEDLIFE clinics. As volunteers, the women had the opportunity to be involved with patient care in a variety ways, rotating through stations including shadowing general doctors, dentists, obstetricians and gynecologists; teaching people how to brush their teeth, pharmacy, triage and health education.

“I got to work with the dentist at the first clinic. It was hard at first because he only spoke Spanish, but we got along well enough,” Uhlenbrock said. “I took notes on patient charts, passed tools to him when needed and observed a lot. He did so well with the patients and cared so much. I only hope that I can give back like he does one day.”

The group also visited the first school that MEDLIFE built and helped to repaint it and build a new playground for the children.

“This trip was such an eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to go,” Axe said. “Otterbein has taught me the importance of community engagement, and has given me the education necessary to participate in organizations such as MEDLIFE.”

Both women said the trip will have a strong influence on the remainder of their time at Otterbein and their careers.

“I will soon be applying to medical schools, and this trip allowed me to be involved in the care of those who desperately need it,” Axe said. “It also gave me a new perspective on the broad spectrum of global health issues.”

Uhlenbrock said the trip confirmed what she already knew about herself, she wants to help others. Currently, she is considering attending graduate school for physician’s assisting or epidemiology.

“(This experience) puts everything into perspective for you,” she said. “I know it’s cliché but it made me realize how fortunate I am. The entire trip I was in awe of how the Ecuadorians were so happy with so little. I would love to be able to give back and do even more when I have a degree and can treat patients.”