PA program receives grant for Dominican Republic trip

PA program
Professor Cynthia Lord, at left, demonstrates clinical techniques to students

Dec. 20, 2013 - Quinnipiac's physician assistant program has received a Global Outreach Humanitarian Assistance Grant for its upcoming medical services trip to the Dominican Republic.

The Physician Assistant Foundation recently awarded Quinnipiac a $5,000 grant, which will be used to purchase medicine and pay for services such as X-rays and CT scans at local hospitals when six PA students visit the Dominican Republic Jan. 12-18.

"This is the fifth consecutive year that we have received a grant from the Physician Assistant Foundation," said Cynthia Lord, clinical associate professor of physician assistant studies and director of the physician assistant program. "It demonstrates that we have a good track record and that the foundation believes in us and the work that our students do." 

The PA program has sent about 50 students to the Dominican Republic since 2009 via Health Horizons International, a Connecticut-based non-profit organization whose mission is "to provide quality primary health care to underserved patients of the Dominican Republic and to build local capacity for achieving improved community health."

Nicole Cottle, a first-year physician assistant student from Salt Lake City, Utah, is coordinating the January trip. She called the grant "a tremendous help."

"My goal for this medical mission is to better understand the health care difficulties for those in the Dominican Republic and compare and contrast them with the difficulties in the United States," Cottle said. "The issues are not just health care. They are all encompassing. HHI helps these communities with water and sanitation as well. Individuals who live in the Dominican Republic have complex health care issues, mainly due to the lack of clean water and sanitation efforts within their living quarters. If we can provide small funds and work on some of those big Items, HHI can help decrease preventable illness." 

Lord and Cottle said much of the credit for the grant goes to students Alyssa Kanagaki and Dan Kent, second-year PA students who wrote the grant application.

"Students get a life-changing experience," said Kanagaki, a West Springfield, Mass. resident who visited the Dominican Republic last January. "It is unbelievable how much impact a team can have on a community in just one to two days. We saw 500 patients in just the one week. A lot of people think that when we go over there, we drop off meds and take off, but the beauty of this program is that it is chronic care. People with epilepsy, diabetes, and asthma are followed long term. Each patient has a folder and when Health Horizons International (HHI) comes, we already know so much about them and what treatments we have used in the past. There is a strong role that the community plays in the health of the population." 

Lord said the relationship between Quinnipiac and Health Horizons International began in 2008 when Bradford Wilkinson, a doctor from Durham, Conn. whose daughter Hannah was in the PA program, asked to speak to students about a trip to the Dominican Republic that he was planning.

"He was trying to round up some interest," Lord said of Wilkinson, who serves as vice chairman of HHI. "Twenty-one people jumped on board. Thus the annual trip to the Dominican Republic was born."

The educational value goes well beyond the week-long trip. Students also visit the Dominican Republic as part of their primary care residencies and for an elective in global health.

"Words cannot express how excited I am," Cottle said. "I'm so grateful for this opportunity and look forward to providing care to those in need."