University of Delaware alum Alec Mackinnon, who majored in medical diagnostics with a pre-physician assistant, concentration, takes the temperature of a patient using a forehead scanner during intake at a MEDLIFE clinic outside Lima.
While a senior at UD, Alec MacKinnon embarked on his first medical mission trip to Peru, where he assisted doctors in the intake tent, taking temperatures and other vital signs.

Medical mission trip

November 16, 2023 Written by Amy Cherry | Photos submitted by Virginia Hughes

Medical diagnostics pre-physician assistant students travel to Peru for weeklong service trip

In May of last year, a 10-foot wall with barbed wire known as the “Wall of Shame” divided the wealthy from the impoverished outside Lima, Peru. Lavish white buildings sit on one side of the wall, while on the other, metal shacks are piled atop one another on a dirt road. Here, there’s no running water or electricity.  

Getting there requires a treacherous drive along the edge of a cliff followed by traversing dangerous, steep steps. It’s a journey not for the faint of heart. Even those in modest physical shape had trouble. 

“A 5-year-old girl with a big smile on her face extended her hand to one of the students who was having difficulty getting up the steps, and she said in Spanish, ‘Come on, I’ll help you; we’ll do this together,’ recalled Virginia Hughes, associate professor in the Department of Medical and Molecular Sciences within in the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences

That moment of humanity embodied the spirit of the weeklong service-learning trip that brought Hughes and medical diagnostic pre-physician assistant (MDD-PPA) majors Alec MacKinnon, Abigail Flores-Toscano, and Erin Dacey to Peru last May for their first medical mission trip. They joined students in Arcadia University’s physician assistant program on the experience hosted by MEDLIFE. The nonprofit partners with low-income communities in Latin America and Africa to improve access to medicine, education and community development. 

“Many of our patients urgently need medical treatment, but they don’t have the resources. Often, our patients come to us in critical condition because of the conditions in which they live,” said Rosali Vela, marketing team lead for MEDLIFE. 

Vela said community development projects aim to address the root causes of disease. UD students beautified a playground by painting, planting trees and creating a mural.

“Our patients are ailing because they don’t have access to staircases or roads,” Vela said. “So, we added community development projects to all the service-learning projects so we can support communities by leaving a legacy after we’ve gone.” 

The trio of UD students spent most of their time in mobile medical clinics focused on patient assessment, dental, obstetrics and gynecology, and education. Each day, they’d rotate between two stations.

“You got a taste of everything,” said Dacey, a senior. “We were exposed to a lot, which made me want to help even more.” 

Every morning, long lines wrapped around the concrete perimeter of the medical clinics, where more than 200 people were seen over three days. 

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