Senior resident physicians gaining experience in Bolivia

Three senior resident physicians wanting to practice rural medicine will learn what it is like to diagnose a patient with little more than the physical evidence in front of them.

Drs. Debra Pike and Art Morrow, faculty members at UPMC Altoona’s family physicians residency program, are accompanying the residents, newly graduated doctors in professional training, on a 16-day trip to Bolivia through Love in Action International Ministries, an Altoona-based Christian organization that builds orphanages in Latin America.

Ministry cofounder Gary Zimmerman, his wife, Jerri, and their granddaughter, Megan, as well as Pike’s husband, Jim Beckenbaugh, also are making the trip with the physicians.

The group left Tuesday morning after dividing and organizing medical and pharmaceutical supplies and are to meet with 15 other volunteers in Miami before continuing on to Bolivia.

Pike said although conditions there won’t be exactly comparable to local rural areas, the new doctors will get an idea of what it is like to provide care to people without all the proper equipment and supplies, such as X-rays.

“They’ll have to rely more on their teaching and skills, and there will be a language barrier,” she said.

Pike said the medical residents will have the opportunity to help set up a pediatric clinic, perform physicals and help with obstetrics and gynecological work.

“We would like to get them started into doing some global medicine work,” Pike said.

Most of the other 15 volunteers will stay for 12 days to help with construction of the Guayaramerin orphanage, “Andrea’s Home of Hope & Joy,” but Zimmerman said the Altoona team is staying four days longer to work at clinics there and in the smaller village of Riberalta, 60 miles away.

“Care is sparse,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not that there aren’t good doctors, but sometimes there isn’t access” to them.

Pike also said her husband, a local Cold Stone Creamery owner, plans to help construct a dairy at the orphanage, which Zimmerman hopes will one day produce enough milk and other dairy products to set up a store in the center of town to financially support the orphanage.

As part of her fourth trip with Love in Action, Pike said she continues to make the trips because of the oath she took as a doctor to help people.

Medical care is expensive for those making as little as $2 a week, she said, and many can’t afford to spend that much on an office visit no matter how sick or injured they are.

“We’re very blessed in this country,” she said. “So, this is an opportunity to do something that really matters for people who really need it.”

The volunteers are scheduled to return Aug. 21.