Medical mission trip gives Rowan junior an introduction to international medicine
Known for its consistent tropical climate, mountain ranges and beaches, Costa Rica is a hot spot for tourists in the market for dream vacations. For Rowan University junior biochemistry major Kunal Patel, Costa Rica fulfilled a different dream.
Last month, Patel volunteered on a weeklong medical mission trip with the Foundation of International Medical Relief of Children [FIMRC]. FIMRC is a non-profit organization with the goal of bringing improved healthcare methods to developing countries, something Patel has been passionate about his entire life.
"Participating in international medicine was always one of my passions. It stemmed from a trip to India when I was younger,” said Patel, who volunteered in a clinic pharmacy and doctors’ offices. “Seeing a majority of the poor population malnourished really resonated with me and helped me decide on becoming a doctor.”
Improving access to healthcare
In the province of Alajuelita, Patel spent his days assisting at a clinic for illegal migrant workers who left their native Nicaragua. Many families who leave the country in search for work in agriculture, such as picking cocoa and coffee beans, enter Alajuela without an education or access to healthcare.
"When I volunteered with the pharmacy, part of the job was explaining how to take the medicines prescribed and for how long, because most of them can’t read or write,” Patel said.
Patel also shadowed doctors and psychologists, administered height, weight and blood pressure tests and gave educational courses on dental hygiene.His favorite position, however, was gathering charts and sorting files at the front desk of the clinic.
"The front room is where a lot of the children waited and played, and I loved entertaining them,” Patel said. “The children love seeing volunteers and playing with them. They cry when they have to leave because most of them don’t have toys or coloring books, and often, their parents are still working to support their families, so they’re on their own.”
While working with the community was the most rewarding, there was challenge Patel had to face. He had to speak Spanish.
"Spanish is the language spoken by a lot of the workers. Fortunately I’ve been taking Spanish since elementary school. I wasn’t perfect and they could tell, but that changed pretty quickly,” Patel said.
Patel is an active member on campus, holding the positions of alternate student representative on Rowan's Board of Trustees, a resident assistant at Whitney Apartments and research assistant. His desire to help others really stems from his parents, he said.
"My parents always tell me that I’m very fortunate in life, and that if I’m not trying to help someone less fortunate, I’m wasting my time,” Patel said.
During his sophomore year at Hightstown High School, Patel began his mission to help those less fortunate by becoming a volunteer emergency medical technician. In his junior year, he became a certified EMT, and he plans to continue his path by joining Rowan’s emergency medical squad.
"I think the whole trip made me realize how lucky I am to live the life I have and inspired me to bring an awareness to Rowan,” Patel said.
Beginning this fall, Patel intends to waste no time and will inform the pre-medical community at Rowan about his experiences and attempt to garner support for the initiative. The clinic doesn’t have access to many resources. Often times, it doesn’t have the proper medication to administer to patients. Patel’s way of making an everlasting impact on the lives of others will be through fundraisers and raising awareness of conditions in developing countries, as he journeys towards his dream of helping others, he said.