SRU students join Harvard counterparts for medical mission trip


Students pose for a group photo

Students in the MEDLIFE chapter at Slippery Rock University will make a medical mission trip, Jan. 12-20, 2019 to Cusco, Peru. Twenty students from SRU will team up with students from Harvard University to provide volunteer services in remote areas of the country. SRU students previously traveled to Ecuador and Peru for trips organized through MEDLIFE.

Dec. 12, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Slippery Rock University students travel abroad, they get the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, explore new places and sometimes help to make the lives of those they encounter a little better.

Organizers expect that to be the case Jan. 12-20 when a group of SRU students joins with their counterparts from Harvard University for a medical mission to Peru. There, the group will work with local health care professionals to provide medical assistance to Peruvian residents in remote communities at mobile clinics.

About 20 members of the Medicine, Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere chapter at SRU will stay in Cusco, Peru, and provide much-needed medical relief and offer educational programs, like teaching children how to brush their teeth.

"This is a great way to create sustainable acts in impoverished communities and help create a world that is free from the constraints of poverty," said David Kaelin, a junior exercise science major from Kings Park, New York, who is president of MEDLIFE chapter at SRU. "Hopefully we can empower these communities in their fight to stand up for themselves and get the free health care access that they should have."

Kaelin founded the chapter at SRU after serving on a mission trip to Ecuador last spring with the Pre-Physician Assistant Club at SRU, a trip that was organized through MEDLIFE, a non-profit organization that partners with low-income communities in Latin America and Africa to improve their access to quality health care, education and safe homes.

Kaelin was so inspired by his experience through MEDLIFE in Ecuador that he quickly organized a student organization and mobilized 35 SRU students who conducted a similar mission trip to Lima, Peru, last August. Next month's trip to Cusco is something Kaelin hopes will become an annual occurrence for the growing chapter at SRU, which already has nearly 250 students.

"The students are great," said Lynn Williams, SRU associate professor and director of the physician assistant program. "They are incredibly hard-working. They truly are altruistic and want to help people. They are better organized that I could ever imagine and David has done a tremendous job organizing this trip."

Williams will be joining the students on the trip to Peru, a country she previously visited as a tourist. Williams also has experience conducting medical mission trips, having visited China four times in the mid-2000s where she adopted two daughters, Ling Er and Mei.

"These types of medical mission trips are absolutely fantastic," Williams said. "Even though you are quote-unquote working there, it's a gift to be able to give back and it makes you appreciate what you have (back home). The students (entering health professions) will see cases and situations they would otherwise never see in their career. In America a lot of these things will not happen the same way they would there. It's a great learning experience in so many ways."

Williams said that in the United States, lab tests, X-rays or MRIs are ordered, sometimes before the first appointment or diagnosis, but in countries that lack resources, medical professionals have to be good diagnosticians, listen more closely to patients' histories and rely mostly on their intellect and talents rather than technology to help patients.

But that's not to say the students will be on their own, nor will that be their only benefit from the experience.

"This experience is invaluable in so many ways," Williams said. "One is seeing a different culture and a health care delivery system, or lack thereof, and being able to help fill in some of the gaps and learn how people adapt to not having the great resources we have in our country. Another way is learning how to work as a team with people who you are not used to being around or would otherwise never connect with."

That connection extends to the more than 50 Harvard University students joining the SRU contingent on the trip. MEDLIFE typically groups students from its partner institutions together and that it was simply by chance that SRU was paired with the Ivy League school. Kaelin said the size of SRU's groups are comparable to many of the groups from larger, state flagship universities.

While in Peru, the students will stay in hostels in Cusco. MEDLIFE will coordinate transportation to the mobile clinics where group members will work with local physicians, dentists and medical professionals, assisting them in offering diagnoses and distributing medicine and supplies.

"In Peru, health care is free, you don't need any insurance, but (people in remote communities) lack the ability to go to medical facilities and get what they need; they can be treated very easily if they just had medication," said Kaelin, who encountered similar circumstances during his trip to Peru last August when SRU students saw a combined 525 patients at different clinics. "We'll go to a different mobile clinic each day and we'll have time for reflection to discuss with the MEDLIFE staff what we learned."

Students will also conduct a service project while in country. For example, when the SRU students traveled to Lima, Peru, in August they built three sets of staircases in a mountainous community.

Similar to most study-abroad experiences at SRU, students pay approximately $2,000 to go on the trip. The MEDLIFE chapter at SRU raised $300 for medical supplies, and will take other donated supplies, like automated blood pressure cuffs, glucose IVs and clothing.

Anyone interested in supporting SRU's MEDLIFE chapter can contact Kaelin at SRU students can learn more by visiting the organization's page on CORE, SRU's online portal for student organizations.

"We're making a difference in these communities and people are believing in the message of MEDLIFE. This global movement empowers everyone to help fight poverty," said Kaelin. "These trips also empower students to recognize opportunities to fight poverty in their local communities as well. When we go on these trips you can see how thankful people are and how much our help is needed."

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |