Redefining Medical Missions

Baylor students ministered to Peruvians despite the challenges brought by coronavirus

Redefining Medical Missions

While many Baylor-sponsored mission trips had to be canceled over Spring Break 2020 due to coronavirus concerns, the medical mission trip to Peru by students from Baylor’s Medical Service Organization and the Louise Herrington School of Nursing went on schedule — with some last-minute modifications. In this First Person essay, one of the mission trip’s student team leaders, Anna Sabin (B.S. in biology ’20), describes how the group persevered to minister to others.

In March 2020, Baylor University Missions sent a team of 24 people, consisting of two faculty nurses, two student leaders, 14 members from Baylor’s Medical Service Organization and seven nursing students, to serve in Collique, Peru, over Spring Break. This was the second time that BU Missions had sent a team of this nature to work in that country. While we were in Peru, we were able to work alongside Operación San Andrés, a nonprofit organization based outside of Lima, Peru. 

In the spring of 2019 when we first worked with Operación San Andrés, we were able to conduct health screenings while collecting data to determine the medical needs of the community as they prepared to have a free clinic in the weeks following. We were also able to work with the children that are part of the OSA program and teach them about nutrition, first aid and exercise. We finished our time with a question-and-answer session with many of the mothers from the community regarding children’s health.

Since the 2019 trip was the first time that BU Missions had sent a medical team to work with OSA, our ultimate purpose for the 2020 trip was to learn as much as we could with the hopes of returning to Collique in the future and to have a better understanding of the needs of the community. With this in mind, our goal for this year’s trip was to continue to build Baylor’s relationship with OSA while also being able to perform health screenings for the community. We also wanted to use this trip to do more of a community engagement project. 

What I have learned over the past four years of doing medical mission trips is that not everything will go precisely as planned. A community may have different needs, organizations may alter their focus or the world’s circumstances may change in an instant. As our team was eagerly preparing for our trip and finalizing our plan for the week, we were also monitoring the widespread outbreak of COVID-19. At this point, the virus had just reached the United States and the death toll was still in single digits. We trusted BU Missions in making the decision as to whether or not a trip that we had been waiting for since August would still be a possibility.

We soon were informed that for our safety, our medical team would not be permitted to perform medical screenings. Being a medical team, we were devastated that we would not be able to practice taking vital signs or having the opportunity to interact with the community through our clinics. However, we definitely had something to be thankful for. While our plan for the week was undergoing drastic changes, other teams were told that their participation was no longer needed because their Spring Break mission trips had been canceled. During the final team meeting before we departed for Peru, we informed our team members of the sudden change in plans. Although many of them were disappointed, everyone continued to show enthusiasm and a desire to serve the community of Collique. 

So, what do you do when you can’t serve in the manner that you intended to? What is the point of going on a medical mission trip if you are unable to perform health screenings? Are you still able to make a difference in the community if you are unable to serve in a clinic? These were questions that we as a team had to ask ourselves throughout this trip. 

As a co-leader, my priority was to ensure that every individual on this trip learned something, whether it was from serving the community, interacting with the children, or working alongside one another. What I didn’t realize is how much I would learn from watching this team work together. I learned this year how important this team’s dynamic truly was. Being able to bring together pre-medical, pre-physician assistant and pre-physical therapy students, as well as students who are just a few months away from becoming registered nurses, is a dynamic like no other.

Jeanne Carey, one of our beloved faculty members at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, has often said that this team was a model for how other university medical teams should be. As a pre-med student, I have learned so many valuable skills from Nursing students as they have more experience in patient care. I also think that this teaches prehealth students the importance of working with people of different professions in healthcare. I’ve heard many physicians say that medicine is a team effort, whether you are a physician, nurse, physician’s assistant, physical therapist, occupational therapist or technician, and each individual plays an important role in patient care. I think it’s important for prehealth students to learn the value of teamwork early on when it comes to healthcare.  

Our trip to Peru was not what we had intended when we began planning this trip. However, I would not have changed anything about it. I saw this team come together in times of uncertainty to do their absolute best to be present with this community. I saw people put in hours of work to paint a house, create games and activities on a moment’s notice with children, and come together to create a first aid curriculum to teach to many adults in the community. I saw people fighting exhaustion still be able to put others first. I also saw so many new friendships form as the days progressed. 

Service doesn’t mean resolving every problem in a community in a matter of days. It doesn’t mean stepping in and trying to treat every patient for hypertension. It also doesn’t mean saving the world or acting as if you are a hero. What service means is coming in and showing others that you care by doing your best — and doing as much as you can for a community, no matter what the job might be. It means encouraging people to feel that they will be able to face circumstances on their own. Not everyone needs to be saved, but everyone needs to know that they are loved and cared for. The skills that this group taught to the adults and children that week in Peru about health and wellness is knowledge that can last for a lifetime. 

This team came together in ways that I could not have imagined, and I was truly honored to serve as one of their co-leaders. I learned from this trip that there is always something that you can do to make a difference, no matter the circumstances. I would like to thank my co-leader, Matti Karr, and our fantastic Baylor faculty nurses, Jeanne Carey and Dr. Marie Lindley, for making this trip possible. Their leadership and commitment to serving OSA was a driving force for this year’s trip. Although I am sad that this was my last trip to with MSO and the nursing students, I am forever grateful for the memories and experiences that I’ve been able to take away, and I am excited for future MSO and nursing teams to continue to serve alongside OSA in the future.


[Group photo credit (#3): Andreea Loghin]