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Medical Students Help Screen Migrants in El Paso Shelters

Medical students from the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine have been assisting with health screenings of migrants crossing the border in El Paso, Texas. Third year student Carlos Yeelot heard about the need for medical professionals at the shelters through an Instagram post. Other students got the word through their clinical preceptors or their fellow students.

“We work under the supervision of medical professionals, like our own faculty member Dr. Swift who is a pediatrician. Medical screenings consist of evaluating each patient just as we would at a regular clinic,” Yeelot explained. “This includes obtaining a history of present illness, asking about previous medical conditions, allergies, and medications; and taking vital signs. We then examine each patient and arrive at a diagnosis and treat accordingly, or send to the hospital if necessary.”

The students have also transferred patients to and from hospitals and bus stations, played soccer with the children, assisted with the organization of supplies and medications, and helped navigate language barriers.

“We’ve also helped them come up with suggestions to help control diseases,” added third-year student Marlina Ponce de Leon. “For example, we suggested they put up reminders about hand washing. We also gave suggestions on ways to make the intake process more efficient.”

The patients the medical students see range in age from six months to 50 plus years old. They come from primarily Central American countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Yeelot said the smiles and gratitude from the patients made the experience extremely worthwhile. “The most memorable thing is being able to connect with your patients. When you can get into their lives and understand their problems, that creates a link that cannot be explained,” he said. “Being able to ask them about their migrant journey and hear their unique stories about life, travel, and the immigration experience, leaves us medical professionals with a duty to treat them with compassion, dignity, and respect.”

Carlos Yeelot

As the days progressed, some of the children began to refer to Yeelot as “El Doctor.” “They were all surprised when ‘El Doctor’ asked if he could play soccer with them. They were thrilled and it was so much fun,” he remembered.

Ponce de Leon said the experience was eye-opening and that the shelter workers were impressed with the BCOM students’ compassion, as well as their ability to diagnose, treat, and manage different medical problems with limited resources. “It was a great reminder of how lucky I am to be born in this country, and also how much the American dream is real for these individuals who just want better and safer opportunities for their families,” she said.

Any medical students wishing to volunteer their time are welcome to reach out to Yeelot, Ponce de Leon, or any other third-year students who have been involved for more information. Ponce de Leon said, “Even if they aren’t able to go down to El Paso due to their busy schedule, we have some ideas that we would like to expand on.”

Yeelot added, “I would advise other students to definitely get involved as this is an eye-opening experience into the current situation of the world we are living in today. This experience will not only allow you to apply what you have been learning in your clinical courses during medical school, but will also show you another aspect of medicine that we as students are not accustomed to.”

Medical students Marlina Ponce de Leon, Gowri Gouda, and Gabriel Pontipiedra at the shelter.