Costa Rica and Nicaragua – Medical Service Trip — The North Star Reports – by Mackenzie Sherrill. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Costa Rica and Nicaragua – Medical Service Trip — The North Star Reports – by Mackenzie Sherrill. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal


This past summer I was blessed with the opportunity to accomplish many things I have been yearning to do for quite some time now: travel abroad, serve others in a medical setting, and grow as an individual. My journey to Costa Rica and Nicaragua was centered around healing and helping the peoples of both countries, so prior to my departure, I knew it was going to be a life-changing 13 days.

Being immersed into two new cultures, both very different from my own, had my mind and ideas constantly focused on finding all the differences I could pinpoint between Central American cultures, and my own in the United States of America. I continually found myself admiring, even envying, these peoples’ simple ways of living over the more complex customs and traditions I have become accustomed to only 3,500 miles away. After having 6 clinic days in both countries and tending to over 548 patients collectively, both in-home and in clinical settings, one difference was able to stand out to me above all others. Although many of the patients we saw had severe medical conditions ranging from uncontrolled chronic illnesses to malnutrition, the doctors we had the opportunity of working alongside of seemed to focus much more upon preventative measures and health education, versus treating the ailment itself. At first, this type of treatment caught me off-guard because as I have observed, healthcare in the states is generally focused upon prescribing various treatments and medicines for medical conditions that are already fully present within the patient.


The concept of preventative healthcare seems to make much more sense in hopes of leading a country’s people to a healthier lifestyle, especially in ones that don’t have access to quality healthcare or medical resources. While hosting clinics in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I sometimes found myself saddened that we couldn’t do more for our patients, but it brought ease knowing that the health education we were providing them with could make all the difference in bringing real change to the communities we worked in. The doctors often stressed that if all we were able to do was educate our patients on how simple topics such as dental hygiene and nutrition are crucial to someone’s overall health, we would be providing these individuals with something much more useful and affective than medicine. With any amount of new knowledge, our patients would hopefully be able to apply it to their own lives, and the lives of their family members, creating a chain reaction of using preventative action towards achieving better health.

Although I was able to help educate the people of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I believe the experience taught me equally as much about the culture in Central America and also how I hope to one day treat patients of my own.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

24 responses to “Costa Rica and Nicaragua – Medical Service Trip — The North Star Reports – by Mackenzie Sherrill. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

    • Maria Nowak

      It is clear to see that this experience was truly eye-opening to you. It’s remarkable how it seems that this experience, done in such a short amount of time, 13 days, taught you a life lesson that you will take with you forever. In high school, I went with my classmates and teachers to Costa Rica for a school trip. We were there for two weeks, and spent the first week with a host family. While it was easy to point out the differences between our cultures at first, I found that it was more important to learn from their culture, rather than just compare it to my own. I find it fascinating how much you can learn from people who have lived a different way of life than yourself, just by taking a step back and being present in the experience. Aside from the differences in Health Care, was there any other cultural differences you picked up on that the U.S. should adopt? How did you use this experience to educate others on what you learned? Thanks for the article!

  1. Matt Breeze

    Do you think preventative health care should be more emphasized here in the US? I have always had the experience of treatment whenever I go into the doctor instead of more preventative care, but maybe that should be a little different. I don’t know if I would say that Americans are the most health group of people on the planet. Maybe more preventative care like you did in South America would be able to make the general population of America more healthy.

  2. Sarah Grace Devine

    Did the preventative approach yield any positive effect that the doctors mentioned? Did the patients have access to medicine in those areas or is preventive healthcare the only cost effective thing they can do? Thank you for sharing your experience, it sound like an amazing learning opportunity.

  3. Roman Schnobrich

    That’s a strange thought– that by volunteering specifically in a clinical area, the patients are changing and helping you just as much as you are changing and helping them. Do you find yourself being limited due to having only 13 days there, or does that seem like an ample amount of time to have a profound impact and influence? It must be a comforting realization that by giving only one patient knowledge about particular medical issues and practices, you’re likely actually educating a small crowd of people. Do you think their relatively less healthy lifestyle has made you significantly more thankful for the health of Americans, or do you think Americans should feel more obligated to spread medical knowledge?

  4. Meghan Lozinski

    I also think that maybe in the U.S. we should lean more towards preventative. I know as an education major I have learned the importance of incorporation healthy life habits into my curriculum even as an English teacher because children may not be learning it at home and not all schools have a successful health class. If you think of some of the biggest problems in the U.S. like obesity which leads to diabetes, heart disease, etc. preventative measures could save a lot of lives and money. Although changing this definitely falls on many more people than just those in health care, including the government, schools, parents, even daycare providers can make an impact on a child’s life and how they learn preventative care.

  5. Connor

    It seems to me that many Americans are already semi-informed of some details of preventative healthcare, especially concerning diet and sedentary lifestyles. I’m sure most Americans no the risks of a poor diet/ inactive lifestyle. The issue would probably be the people who don’t seem to care. Do you think there’s already a decent amount of preventative healthcare practice in America or should there be more?

  6. Thomas Landgren

    It is amazing how you were able to accomplish so much in just 13 days. What you did is truly amazing. What surprised me was you split your trip with six day in Costa Rica and six in Nicaragua. The amount of people you helped also surprised me. Were you working with doctors native to the countries or were you working with american doctors? Since you were working almost everyday did you ever have time to immerse yourself in the culture? Great Article I would love to hear more!

  7. This is something I’ve always wondered, why don’t doctors educate us on how to prevent disease and illness? I eat a low sodium, heart healthy diet and people always tell me I should “live a little” because I don’t currently have heart issues. Heart disease and other heart issues run in my family, and the best cure is the prevention. I think that developing countries have the right idea and that we should follow suit.

  8. Bryce Gadke

    As fast as time seems to travel this semester it is astonishing how much you really were able to accomplish in such short amount of time! When you weren’t helping the vast amounts of individuals that you were helping, did you find time to surround yourself with the beauties of the area and culture? The differences are always shown distinctively when we leave the United States but I’m curious as to what were the comparisons that seemed almost uncanny when you discovered them. Thanks for a great article to read!

  9. That is quite an interesting difference to notice! I feel that America focuses generally on direct treatment versus prevention. We can really learn something from the methods of preventative care, and I am glad you shared the experience and new knowledge! The health care system in America would greatly benefit if people were better educated on preventative care. It is great to hear that you plan on applying what you have learned to your own practices in the future.

  10. Jimmy Lovrien

    The preventative care versus prescriptions to solve existing health issues was an interesting observation. In the United States, there is certainly an industry built around treating ailments. Companies are able to grow off treatments they provide. I presume Costa Rica and Nicaragua are experiencing modernization (or Westernize). I am curious if a larger market for preventive care will emerge; however, I hope the focus on preventative care does not waiver. That seems like something that ultimately helps patients and the public save money.

  11. Tabetha Filzen

    It is stunning the amount you have set aside to realize whatever you can in your field of study. To go to somewhere else, with diverse society is a major stride in see every single distinctive style and perspectives. Despite the fact that you helped them a great deal by being there, I think they had helped you more by making you see an entire new purpose of the medical field. I feel that it might be hard for Americans to attempt the preventative medicinal lifestyle, in light of the fact that, we believe that we don’t need individuals “directing” our lives.

  12. Deng Dimayuga

    Something I’ve always appreciated about the stores in ethnic communities within the US is the medicinal section. Everytime I would start to get sick as a child my mom would drive us over to the Mexican market in our community and we would make a bee-line to the medicines that looked more familiar than the ones sold at Walgreens of CVS. There was an abundance of books in our respective language over preventive medicine and acts. I remember seeing so many different versions of these growing up. I never really looked into who wrote these handbooks or how they ended up on my corner stores, but it was very interesting to read about your volunteer experience! It makes me curious about how our experiences could be inter-related.

  13. Rebecca Smith

    My sister did a similar trip a couple years ago in Ecuador, and I remember hearing her discuss similar things when she came back. I can understand the frustration of seemingly only being able to do a little to help the people you’re working with, but it truly can make a world of difference. It’s amazing how much we don’t realize about our own systems until we study or experience a different one, but it would definitely be a positive to turn towards preventative medicine rather than trying to treat something when a problem (often serious one) arises.

  14. Kimberly Acosta

    I have always wanted to visit these two beautiful countries. I never knew that educating people about the small things about your health, it increases your health dramatically. It makes me appreciate what I have. Stories like these, really make those daily tasks a very important one.

  15. Jenna Algoo

    Yes! I love this article! This is exactly what pre-med, med, nursing, PT, OT, (take your pick really) students should be taught while hoping to help people in a medicinal way. If we want to actually make people better there needs to be steps taken to educate about the disease or the illness, in that way people know how to move forward and how to help themselves to some degree. It sounds like your trip was really phenomenal in the way it helped you analyze your future.

  16. James Fuerniss

    It’s kind of odd to even think about preventative healthcare rather than getting treatment. It must have been difficult for you to watch some of the patients. I applaud you for the difference you made! Does this form of healthcare make any immediate impact? Or do you have to wait for any difference.

  17. Cassidy Jayne

    What a great article. As Jenna mentioned, this totally coincides with what I know to be true about the science majors (particularly those with a focus on care/service). It’s one thing to treat, but it’s another to educate on preventative actions and help them help themselves in the future. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Kyle Hellmann

    What a great learning lesson you had. Education is the key here, and it is so much better than just treating them. I will definitely be sharing this article with my nursing friends. It will be interesting to see if this trend will only stay in developing countries, or that preventative healthcare will come here to the States and other developed countries.

  19. Michel Doege

    Like you I feel this is a much different approach from the U.S.’s approach to it. I think that preventative health care is not only beneficial but needed. If we could stop the diseases from happening then we wouldn’t have to spend millions when the diseases do occur. I’m glad to hear other countries are practicing this, thanks for sharing!

  20. Logan Davey

    I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Costa Rica myself and I totally agree with you on their laid back style of life. I find the health care system you described very interesting, because as long as it is working I think it could be useful in other places. I’m curious to know the point in which medication was actually permitted to be used on a patient? Overall it seems that you had a great experience and were able to get a feel for something totally new to you.

  21. It is good to hear that you were able to help out even if the treatment, was simple preventive measures. The knowledge will be useful for families now and future generations to help prevent from illness. It seems that you have learned a different approach from a medical standpoint on what to do when the supplies needed are not available. Great to hear about your experience!

  22. amanda greene

    I really liked this article because it gave me a slightly broader perspective on healthcare in another country. You brought up the point that preventative healthcare would be very beneficial to the people there. The doctors emphasized that educating would help them greatly. Maybe we should take this preventative education care into America. It’s neat to think that both countries have brought important ideas that benefit one another.

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