The University of Iowa

Virtual International Medicine in the Dominican Republic

September 1st, 2021


During my anatomy course this past spring, my professor sent out an announcement that he would be leading an International Medicine Virtual Study Abroad Experience in the Dominican Republic (DR). I was curious because I have always wanted to study abroad, but hesitant that the virtual format would be awkward and boring. I emailed my professor back with my interest and thought if nothing else it would be worth the patient experience. I went in with fairly low expectations, as I (as well as many college-age students) was extremely Zoom fatigued. However, I can say that this experience completely blew my expectations away.

"I went in with fairly low expectations, as I was extremely Zoom fatigued. However, I can say that this experience completely blew my expectations away."

On June 21 we started meeting with the Entrena group of the Dominican Republic. The first week there were many presentations on topics such as COVID in a third world country, herbal remedies, and the structure of the Dominican health care system. These were all to prepare us for the two weeks that would follow. Starting in the second week we began shadowing in a central hospital in Engombe, an area around Santo Domingo. For the next two weeks, we spent time in the pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and general surgery areas of the hospital. There were some connection issues that forced us to spend more time outside the hospital, but I honestly enjoyed this time more.

When outside the hospital, our facilitators found patients to share their stories with us. It was incredible talking to these patients and truly immersing ourselves in the culture. Our evening meetings were culture-centered but talking to real people about their daily struggles was where the culture was shown raw and real. However, the culture classes were the truly fun aspects of the class. One family that worked with Entrena would zoom with us and teach us how to cook typical Dominican dishes, how to dance traditional Dominican dances, and give us some tips to speak Spanish and be in on the Dominican “slang.” It was classes like that that helped me forget I was looking at a screen, not truly in the Dominican Republic.

"This experience has been immensely educational for me. Going into the different hospitals and hearing from medical professionals on issues the Dominican Republic is facing was eye-opening."

This experience has been immensely educational for me. Going into the different hospitals and hearing from medical professionals on issues the Dominican Republic is facing was eye-opening. At the core, all countries’ medical facilities have the same goal: to help patients get better. This was seen across the board in doctors wanting to do what is best for patients. Unfortunately, the DR does not always have the resources to do so. The main issues lay in the poorest and rural areas. These areas have UNAPs or primary care centers, that don’t always have the resources they need. They mostly refer people to higher levels of care, but these people may have no way to get there. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by most of the hospitals. For the most part, the more urban areas were very similar to our hospitals here in the states. Visits were a little less thorough and the wait times were much longer, but the quality of care seemed up to good standards.

The religious background of the Dominican Republic also created a strong faith and community aspect to healing. Many patients told us of the way God had allowed them to be healed and strengthened their faith. This opportunity has allowed me to identify areas of medicine I hope to both learn and improve upon once I am a practicing physician. I am also immensely grateful for the resources and research in the United States. That was one of the largest factors that set the two countries apart. We have access to so many more things we need. When we don’t have something, we create it. My eyes were widely opened to this fact, and I hope to never take it for granted. I hope to someday travel to the Dominican Republic in person and expand upon everything I learned this summer.

University of Iowa student Bailey Hollis, a human physiology major on the pre-med track, participated in the virtual course International Medicine in the Dominican Republic during the summer of 2021. 

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