A first-year student from the School of Physician Assistant Studies became the first PA student to join a UF College of Medicine medical humanitarian trip over spring break.Kristen McCutcheon participated in Project HEAL, an organization led by medical students Jared Sninsky and Sean Sanker and supervised by David L. Wood, MD, MPH, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the College of Medicine-Jacksonville.
“At the College of Medicine we learn about teamwork,” said Sninsky. “It’s only appropriate that our international trips should include a PA member of the team.”
Project HEAL, an acronym for Health, Education and Learning, provides care to rural and indigenous Ecuadorian villages, identifies public health concerns and educates locals about preventive practices. The group traveled to Ecuador during UF’s spring break Feb. 28 through March 8, setting up clinics throughout the country and seeing about 1,200 patients during the week.
Although Project HEAL is an interdisciplinary program that includes students from the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Nursing, and Public Health and Health Professions, a PA has not been on a trip until this year.
Sninsky said McCutcheon’s contribution to the team was beneficial, and medical students on the trip learned more about the PA profession.
“I think it was a really successful trip,” he said. “It was impressive to see the teamwork between the different schools.”
McCutcheon completed her undergraduate degree in Spanish at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. She accredits her background to helping her develop a stronger connection with the people from Ecuador. She has been on previous medical mission trips to places such as Haiti and enjoys learning about diverse cultures, she said.
McCutcheon was thankful for this year’s trip and the chance to branch out and learn from the other health profession students, she said.
“It’s a valuable experience I won’t forget,” she said. “There are also patients I’ll always remember.”