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Six Nurse Anesthesia Students Travel to Guatemala for Medical-Surgical Mission

On the southern shore of Lake Atitlán in the western highlands of Guatemala is Hospitalito Atitlán, a small, private non-profit hospital serving the 75,000 resource-poor Tz’ulujil Maya people of the community of Santiago Atitlán.

Many of Hospitalito Atitlán’s patients cannot afford care. In 2015 alone, the hospital provided just over $175,000 in free and discounted medical care in the hospital and community outreach clinics. While the hospital offers a full-range of preventive and clinical health services with an emphasis on women and children, it has the only 24/7 emergency and surgical obstetrical care within a two-hour radius.

Earlier this year, for the fifth time, faculty and students from Penn Nursing and Penn Medicine travelled to Santiago Atitlán on a surgical mission trip. The all-Penn team was comprised of a general surgeon, a resident, two perioperative nurses, an acute care nurse practitioner, four anesthetists, and six students from Penn Nursing’s nurse anesthesia program.  

Over the course of a week at Hospitalito Atitlán, the Penn team performed 28 surgical procedures, including three emergency operations that would have been done without anesthesia had they not been present – an all too common occurrence in the healthcare facilities of developing countries worldwide. In addition to the medical support they provided, the team was also able to raise nearly $8,000 in donations for the hospital, and brought with them school supplies, clothes, and toys for a local pre-school.

An interdisciplinary research, education, and service program involving the Penn Schools of Nursing, Medicine, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Wharton, since 2005, the Guatemalan Health Initiative has used knowledge gained through participatory research and clinical and cultural experiences to develop effective, sustainable, and culturally sensitive health interventions.