Student view:

Mackenzie Desloover and Brittany Ladson: Learning medical culture in the Dominican Republic

Jan. 6, 2020

Mackenzie Desloover is a sophomore pursuing a degree in nursing and minor in health promotion in the College of Nursing. She is the president of Tower Guard and an active member of the Nursing Student Association. Brittany Ladson is a 2017 graduate of Lyman Briggs and current second year medical student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Brittany hopes to specialize in international medicine and work for Doctors Without Borders after graduation.

“We are landing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Current time is 9:30 p.m.” These words can be chilling to any travel junkie or newbie alike. Whether you travel regularly or are taking your first steps in a different country, those words elicit excitement and anticipation about the adventure you are about to embark on. 

During spring break 2019, we traveled to the Dominican Republic with the Institute of Global Health, or IGH, through the College of Osteopathic Medicine. We spent one week visiting hospitals, diabetic wound care clinics and the local medical school, UNIBE. 

The trip was unique in that medical students, pre-medical undergraduates, nursing students and public health majors were all invited to attend and contribute from their own unique perspective.  

We visited patients having their post-op surgical scars cleaned which involved heavy scrubbing of bare areas to prevent infections. Because analgesics are financially limited to the wealthy, patients of a lower socioeconomic status go without and cry out in agony during procedures. 

In order to soothe patients, the Dominican healthcare team used methods different than American physicians would such as language much more personal in nature. “Mi Amor,” or my love, and “Mi madre,” or my mother, were common expressions, as well as expressing physical affection. 

In America, it would be considered inappropriate and unprofessional to address patients in such a way. In the Dominican Republic, however, it isn't just acceptable, it is an expectation.

It is vital to acknowledge that some patients expect a more nurturing approach for sympathy than is expected in America. As a hallmark of osteopathic medicine, we learn there is no better way to care for any patient than acknowledging the intersection of their mind, body and spirit during the healing process. 

Whether future doctors and nurses choose to study abroad or not, our experiences in the Dominican Republic have shown us the effort we can make in America to acknowledge the backgrounds and expectations of patients we see and how it impacts their healing process. 

A patient’s healing is influenced by every interaction a patient has with health care facilitators. Being able to see the truth of this statement is a great lesson learned in the new world we live in.