Feb. 17, 2017 | Lindsay Gilbert, M.Ed., MLS, has wanted to go on a medical mission trip for years, but financially, it was never feasible. So when the Clinical Laboratory Management Association (CLMA) offered a scholarship for such trips, she jumped at the opportunity.
Gilbert, who is an assistant professor in the College of Health Profession’s Department of Laboratory Sciences, won the CLMA’s $3,000 medical missions scholarship, which allowed her to travel to Guatemala and Tanzania in 2016. She was also privately sponsored for a trip to Haiti in December 2016.
For Gilbert’s final medical mission of the year, students in UAMS’ Laboratory Sciences Student Association (LSSA) wanted to help. They donated the approximately $400 they earned through a bake sale to purchase a urinalysis machine that Gilbert took with her to Haiti in December.
The urinalysis machine was donated to a clinic in Jubilee Blanc, Haiti, where Gilbert volunteered for a week.
“LSSA decided to purchase the urinalysis machine for the clinic in Haiti because we know the importance of laboratory tests, and how much easier automated methods make testing,” said Amanda Brodnax, a Medical Laboratory Sciences student who is a member of LSSA. “Using a specialized piece of equipment for urinalysis takes a lot of the guesswork and subjectivity out of the test, which made it easier for Ms. Gilbert to train the clinic staff on how to use it.”
“The clinic in Haiti didn’t have the resources to purchase a piece of equipment like this, so we were happy to donate the funds to purchase one for them. I hope this helps the clinic as it works to keep their community healthy,” she added.
Gilbert was one of three laboratorians on the trip. Their goal was to establish a laboratory at the clinic and train clinic workers on the new equipment. In addition to the urinalysis machine, the laboratorians brought with them a microscope, a hematocrit machine and a lot of laboratory supplies.
“I was pleased with how much we were able to accomplish during the week in Haiti,” said Gilbert. “We gave the clinic much-needed laboratory space and trained workers on how to do several procedures, including urinalysis, hematocrits, making blood smears, and testing for malaria and typhoid.”
A working laboratory will benefit the clinic — and its patients — greatly, she said.
“Before we came, the clinic had to refer patients to another facility for any tests that a patient needed,” she said. “Since most of the people in Jubilee Blanc are incredibly poor, it isn’t easy for them to get to another clinic, much less pay for it.”
Gilbert said one of the hardest things about working in a third-world country was realizing she couldn’t do things the same way she did them at UAMS.
“In a third-world country, you’re dealing with a lack of training, with facility issues, with lack of electricity and supply issues, all of which affect your ability to do your job,” she said. “You really have to take everything you know and be willing to adapt, because you simply can’t create first-world laboratory conditions in the third world.”
The trip to Haiti was Gilbert’s third and final medical mission trip in 2016. Her trips to Guatemala and Tanzania were largely funded by a new scholarship from the CMLA for laboratory scientists.
“When I heard about the scholarship, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. “I’m very grateful and lucky that I won the scholarship, because without it I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to Guatemala, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to go to Tanzania. Without those two experiences, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to go to Haiti either.”
Gilbert spent a week in Guatemala in April 2016. She was part of a group of about 20 medical professionals who traveled around the country in a bus. Each day, the group set up a clinic in a different town or village.
For this trip, Gilbert wasn’t in the laboratory. Instead, she was part of the group that dispensed pharmaceuticals to patients, based on the recommendations of the intake doctors and nurses.
“Since none of us working in the pharmacy were pharmacists, there was definitely a learning curve,” she said. “I studied up on the various medications that we had brought with us so that I had an understanding of what conditions they treated and the proper dosages. We worked as a team with the doctors and nurses to make sure that our patients got the right treatment for their condition.”
A few months later, Gilbert found herself in Tanzania and back in the lab. This time, she traveled with a fellow laboratorian, James Strother, to the Tanzania Christian Clinic in Monduli, which is run by Danny Smelser, M.D.
Strother and Gilbert took a hematology analyzer with them to the Tanzanian clinic. They installed the machine and then trained the staff on how to use it to analyze blood. The laboratorians also moved the clinic’s lab to a new space.
During her two weeks in Tanzania, Gilbert also was invited to give presentations at three local schools about bacteria and parasites — and how to avoid them.
For Gilbert, the medical mission trips were eye-opening.
“Seeing how people in Guatemala, Tanzania and Haiti live was an incredibly humbling experience for me. It made my problems at home seem so insignificant.”
Gilbert said her year of medical missions has simply made her more passionate about helping people in third-world countries.
“I would love to be able to go do this at least once a year,” she said. “I think it is a really important concept as a medical worker to go share all this knowledge that we have with people who are less fortunate.”