Wintermester Study Abroad Experience in Belize

January 12, 2024
HSBW24 Image in front of Santa Martha Village in Orange Walk District, Belize[24]

Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences offers students a broad range of learning opportunities, including study abroad. Each year, the Health Sciences Studies (HSS) program in the Department of Health, Human Performance, and Recreation (HHPR) offers one such program in Belize, giving students the opportunity to gain real-world experiences in their field in a transformative environment beyond campus.

During this past Wintermester, Clinical Assistant Professor Kim Smith, EdD, and her husband Brendan traveled with 14 HSS students to Belize to offer pop-up clinics for villages in need of medical attention through the International Service Learning (ISL) organization. There, ISL worked with the Belize Minister of Health to determine which villages required healthcare attention.

In 10 days, the 14 students triaged more than 150 patients within two villages, Yo Creek and Santa Martha, of the Orange Walk District. The HSS student team consisted of one pre-dental student, two pre-physical therapy students, three pre-physician assistant students, and eight pre-medical students. The students had the opportunity to take vitals and triage patients so that Belizean physicians Dr. Manuel Estrada and Dr. Elugardo Gutierrez could then diagnose and treat the patients. Dr. Julio Escamilla, a Belizean pharmacist, filled more than 400 prescriptions with the assistance of the HSS students, providing valuable medicine and care for those in need.

Carolyn Rausch, a current HSS senior, shared about her experience abroad and how it affected her view on healthcare, specifically in more rural communities:

“It not only opened my eyes to the overwhelming healthcare inequalities faced by underserved and rural communities but also taught me to be more conscious of the socioeconomic factors affecting health. While these experiences were difficult to witness and heavy on my heart, they reinforced the type of healthcare provider I strive to be one day—one who is more aware of the importance of social determinants of health and strives for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to patient care.”

HSBW24 Image at clinic with Drew Wood in Oral Health Station

During their time in Belize, the HSS students practiced critical clinical skills, such as taking resting blood pressure, reviewing patient medical histories, and learning how to auscultate heart and lung sounds. However, they also had the chance to learn about the Creole, Belizean, and Mayan cultures that make up the Belizean population. The students could climb the Lamanai archeological site and participate in an ecological river tour to see native species of crocodiles, iguanas, and birds. Additionally, students could expand their knowledge about medicinal plants from the nation’s Medicine Man at Yuumil.

In their free time, students often played soccer and volleyball with children from Yo Creek. They found this is simple act of play–and the bond it created–helped to made the children more comfortable with “going to the doctor.” Students were also able to provide donations, such as hygiene products and rice to patients at each clinic they visited.

Throughout their experiences in Belize, many students had their eyes opened to a new outlook on life. Current HSS juniors Ashley Cox and Corinna Kent reflected on their time with the people of Yo Creek and Santa Martha and how they feel changed by the experience:

“The people we served along the way and alongside challenged us to dig deeper into our values and lead with empathy, compassion, and kindness,” Cox said. “The people of Belize were rich in their hearts, which opened our eyes to a place of unconditional gratitude and love. We will forever be indebted to the lessons we have learned along this journey and the experiences that allowed us to serve God’s people.”

“There is no greater or more unique learning opportunity than the complete immersion of oneself in an entirely new culture,” Kent added. “This experience provided us a unique and engaging environment that challenged us to redefine our previous viewpoints of the medical world as we opened our hearts and minds to engage and explore different learning opportunities.”

HSBW24 Image in front of Yo Creek Village in Orange Walk District, Belize

Throughout the trip, the 14 students were able to experience practical, spiritual, and transformative moments, which have created a sense of community that will follow them throughout their lives. The next Health Science Studies Signature 10-day Study Abroad Experience will involve 16 students completing house visits and pop-up clinics in Costa Rica.

Edalyn Bray, HSS senior, recommends that students looking to study abroad keep their minds and hearts open as they step into these new experiences:

“As you step into a new environment, embrace the culture, people, and the environment. Remember that you will interact with many people who will look up to you because they hope to be a part of the healing that American healthcare may offer. Be kind and grateful to the patients, doctors, and workers of the several places you will visit.”

Want to learn more about HSS study abroad opportunities? Click here.