Graduate Student Volunteers on Mexican Medical Mission Trip

Residents of Chikinzndot, Mexico, line up to await their turn to be seen at the clinic.
Hanna Shaw, BSN, RN-BC, a current graduate student in the nurse leadership and health system administration concentration, went on her first medical mission trip to Mexico before she even began her nursing practice. “I jumped on a plane with 24-hour’s notice,” remembered Shaw, who has since been on nine trips, six of those for medical missions to Ichmul, which is located in the Yucatán Peninsula, with her church. Prior to the pandemic, Shaw returned to Mexico every six months. For the first time in over two years, Shaw, along with 16 other medical and non-medical volunteers made the week-long trip in early March 2022.  

Prior to the team’s visit, local missionaries and pastors spread the word to the surrounding communities. According to Shaw, the clinic is not limited to one community for the week, rather a new town hosts them every day.

Back in the states, Shaw uses her leadership skills to make sure the team is prepared before departure.

“I go into charge nurse mode to keep us on task and organized. I have lists and spreadsheets to make sure we have the necessities,” she explained. “All the medications we take are donated or purchased by our church, although we are limited on what we can take.”

During the eight-to-ten-hour days in Mexico, Shaw and the team provided primary care, urgent care and second opinions at the clinic. In a single day, they triaged and cared for more than 100 individuals. Everyone in the community was invited to visit the clinic for care. Once a treatment plan was created, patients went to the clinic pharmacy where medications were distributed free of charge.

Hanna Shaw, graduate student (left), prepared to listen to the heart of the baby girl sitting on her lap.
“I've taken care of three-day-old babies up through ninety-nine-year-old men. No matter the stage of life, we won't turn anyone away,” stated Shaw. “To these communities, we are the all-knowing Americans. If their doctor told them something they don't want to hear and then come to us and hear the same thing, they usually take it more seriously.”

The ailments seen most often were nutritional deficiencies, diabetes and hypertension, along with arthritis and upper respiratory infections. It is especially common to see asthma in kids. Occasionally they have encountered a patient with intestinal worms from the unclean drinking water.

“Getting clean, fresh water can be difficult to get in some of these smaller communities. But they can get Coca-Cola off a truck that comes through town multiple times a day. They are like us and would much rather drink a pop than water,” commented Shaw. “I love how our team provided education to these individuals about stretching, pain management, proper nutrition and hydration so their bodies can feel and work their best.”

While most of the time things go smoothly on these trips, Shaw shared there have been a few challenges the team has encountered over the years, such as the language barrier. She remarked that while many of the residents speak some Spanish, the older adults mostly communicate in Mayan.

Additionally, the volunteers have faced location challenges when it came to setting up the clinic.

“We arrived in a community and thought we were going to use the town hall, but something happened, and we couldn’t. An older woman who lived across the street heard what was going on and offered to host the clinic in her little store and extra bedroom. We were so blessed by her willingness to open her home to the entire community,” remembered Shaw, who said that kind of gesture was not normal for these people. “They don't have much and what they have, they hold on to dearly.”

Shaw went on to share the volunteers learned the woman’s husband, who had diabetes and suffered a stroke, was in the other room. He wasn’t doing well. The team provided education to his family and gave them a glucometer to keep an eye on his blood sugars. Six months later, Shaw sought out that woman and learned her husband had passed away several weeks after the team had returned to the United States.

“She was thankful we cared enough to do what we did that day and came back to check on her family,” conveyed Shaw. “The gratitude patients have down there is different than what we typically see here in the States.”

Hanna Shaw, graduate student (left), observes as a fellow volunteer (center) examines a patient's knees., while the patient's adult daughter sits next to her.
Looking to the future, Shaw will continue to volunteer in Mexico.  

“I believe God has called me to partner with these communities. They are family,” exclaimed Shaw. “My parents joke it's my second home. So, the fact that I haven't been there in two years has torn me apart.”

She encourages everyone to serve on a medical mission trip if the opportunity arises. “Don't hesitate! You will be so grateful you left your comfort zone and made a difference. As healthcare providers, we have a unique set of skills the world needs, and your life will be changed for the better.”

A nurse for six years, Shaw currently works as the director of a pre-admission testing department for a local hospital. While this position required her to become a master prepared nurse, Shaw personally wanted to further her education at Kent State because she does not know where her nursing journey will take her in the future, and she did not want to feel limited. When looking at graduate programs, Shaw wanted a school that had a physical location on campus where she could meet with professors and build a community. At the same time, as a full-time healthcare provider, she needed the flexibility of an all-online program.

“Shortly after I took this position COVID hit and that delayed things for a little bit. I started the program last January and have done part-time classes since then,” explained Shaw. “I knew in order to be a better nurse leader I needed more formal education. I really appreciate the experience of the Kent State faculty in my program. They pull from real-world examples. Many of the things I am learning in the nurse leadership program are helping me to relate to my staff and volunteer team better, which will hopefully allow us to increase our efficiency and effectiveness.”

Although her current position is essentially in an office setting, Shaw says her time management skills have still been put to the test.

“I have to make sure that I am constantly managing my priorities and plotting things out on my calendar,” she said. “I am very thankful to have wonderful, supportive family and friends who have helped me so I can prioritize school when I'm not at work.”

Shaw will graduate in May 2023 and is grateful for the investment Kent State makes in its students.

“I have gotten to know the other students in my track, many of whom are other local healthcare professionals,” she commented. “Because of Kent State, I’ve met numerous nurse leaders from other leading hospitals in the area. As our careers grow, the likelihood we'll interact in the future is high. How wonderful that we will already have a foundation of familiarity.”

POSTED: Thursday, March 17, 2022 10:02 AM
UPDATED: Friday, December 09, 2022 05:21 PM
Mariah Gibbons