JOHNSON CITY (July 30, 2013) — Summer is a time for taking a break, relaxing – or going on a medical expedition to India.
The journey to India was the option taken by seven East Tennessee State University community members. Among them were Roan Scholars Leadership Program participants Brad Fisher, Michael Stallard and Victoria Howard. International education scholarships through the Honors College’s International Programs and Services made trip possible for the three.
Dr. Melissa Schrift of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology sent out a call in the spring, looking for volunteers to work with her and the Himalayan Health Exchange.
Fisher explains, “We went to Himachal Pradesh, an area of northern India that is probably about the size of West Virginia. We would have lessons about the people and culture and then hold clinics in remote areas.”
Stallard adds, “Our instruction included learning about Hinduism and then Buddhism, as well as the geography of the region. That helped us understand the mind-set of local people, as well as some of the physical difficulties they face.”
Howard explained that she works in an optometrist’s office and hopes to go into the field. “I was in charge of the eye clinics,” she says. Fisher has a similar career goal, so he assisted with the eye clinics, picking up practical knowledge along the way.
“The area is a hot, dry desert region,” he adds. “The climate contributes to many eye problems, like dry eyes and sun damage. We were able to distribute eye drops, sunglasses, and reading glasses to those with minor vision problems.”
Stallard worked in triage, taking vital signs and sending patients to the correct stations, which also included internal medicine, pediatrics, and dental assistance. “There were cases of low blood pressure, a few older people with high blood pressure and children with problems like heart murmurs.”
Since he plans a medical career, Stallard enjoyed working with the medical staff and getting hands-on experience.
During their stay, the group of about 30 volunteers, including the seven from ETSU, held six clinics at five sites, most of them school buildings. To reach the farthest point, they rode for 15 hours in a bus. They saw some 600 patients, or about 100 a day.
All three Roan Scholars said they would do it all again, and that they found their volunteer work in India to be a valuable part of their education. They have all enjoyed the Roan Scholars experience, too, and credited the support and guidance they receive as giving them the confidence to try the project in India.
“The Roan Program structure doesn’t try to make everyone fit into a mold,” says Howard. “We’re encouraged to pursue our personal interests and goals as a part of the Roan Scholars experience with support from the Roan family.”
Stallard adds, “You get to work with creative, goal-oriented students, and in spite of being a diverse group, they look at the world the same way.”
“And,” says Fisher, “you are part of a large family. They will encourage you and nudge you to achieve more than you would on your own.”