In spite of the lack of other resources, the biggest issue we see causing health problems everywhere we have worked is a lack of health knowledge among patients. This is the most effective way to increase local health care capacity. Each patient consultation is an opportunity for the clinician to impart health knowledge, but we also recognize that health education needs to extend to the community as well. The improvement of local health workers’ professional training and addressing knowledge gaps at the community level will increase health care capacity and encourage greater trust between patients and local health services.
Community education and training of health workers can save lives many miles and many years from where it was first provided. In order to improve access to care, we have provided health education and professional development to hospital and clinic personnel, EMS workers, teachers, and community health workers such as midwives (parteras) and “Promotores deSalud” in remote villages. Educating patients leads to better health, and training local health workers creates sustained improvements in care.
Articles about snakebite and parasite management have been published in the local newspaper, nutrition education sessions have been conducted for mothers and pregnant women, clinical and ultrasound training have been conducted for community midwives, first aid and CPR training has been provided to the police department, as well as sex education in local schools and family planning education.
As part of our education initiatives, we aim not only to improve outcomes in Panama, but also in the home countries of our volunteers, by promoting patient-centered, clinical skill-based practice, and incorporating ultrasound and the resource-limited approach to health issues we encounter into the mentorship of our short-term volunteers. It is our goal to send our volunteers home with a variety of new tools to better serve their patients at home.
A patient with knowledge and a health worker at the peak of their profession are our best partners in promoting health. Whether conducting handwashing or dental hygiene education with waiting patients in a remote clinic, or working with MINSA to explore the possibility of creating a non-doctor health worker position to help with the primary care shortage, we are always seeking new ways to ensure our services are not needed.
For more information about joining our field teams, please visit our volunteer page.