There’s a lot more to a Palmer College education than learning chiropractic. For 16 years now, the Davenport-based school has been sending its final-year students overseas, literally to the jungle in some cases, where they learn about other cultures and themselves.
Along with faculty and alumni, about 300 students per year, including those from Palmer’s Port Orange, Fla., and San Jose, Calif., campuses, take health care to under-served areas around the world.
The 12 to 15 trips of 10 to 16 days in length happen five times a year, during breaks in the school’s academic calendar.
For example, during February and March, a total of 96 participants visited either the island of Bequia (pronounced “Beckway”) in the Caribbean Sea, India or the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. In June, there will be missions to Vietnam, India, Honduras and Fiji.
Dr. Barbara Mansholt, an assistant professor, made her fifth trip to Bequia as one of two faculty supervisors for that group.
“It’s a wonderful experience to watch the students go from trepidation at the customs gate to the culture shock to growing rapidly as both people and doctors-to-be,” she said.
After a day or two of settling in and perhaps taking a tour, the Palmer students provide relief to dozens of patients for eight to 10 hours each day.
Jacob Tazzi’s February trip was to India. The Palmer senior from Chesterfield, Mich., was excited to make his first foreign trip and spent three months making preparations by viewing videos and reading information about that nation’s culture. But he said there’s no way one can really prepare for the experience.
“You can stare at pictures all day long,” he admits, “but a picture doesn’t do justice to the Taj Mahal (when you see it in person).”
How did the Indian people react to their visitors?
“They were curious and excited at the same time. You could tell a lot of them didn’t know what to expect,” he recalled. “Health care is not really available to everybody there because of the poverty.”
(The students raise money to take to the various locations, raising as much as $30,000 per year through bake sales and other fundraising drives in which most of the donations range from $5 to $20.)
Most of Tazzi’s patients were just thrilled that someone was paying attention to them, he added.
Lori Curry-Whitcomb is a registered nurse with a master’s degree. The Taylor Ridge woman is the Clinic Abroad coordinator for Palmer. She landed in Manaun, Brazil, in a part of the country that includes the Amazon rainforest.
“What’s astounding to me is to watch the students go and come back, almost as full doctors, understanding the power that they have (to heal),” she said.
“It’s like a re-confirmation of what they have and that they can make it work. … Wow!”
For the first two years at Palmer, it’s all classes and then the students move into the college’s various clinics. Overseas, though, it’s immediate and strenuous: several straight days of strictly clinic work. It’s a different kind of learning experience.
Curry-Whitcomb’s strongest memory of the time spent in the northern Brazil jungle?
“How hard they work, how much they cared,” she said without hesitation, referring to the students. “It’s hard to work five, six days a week, eight, 10 hours a day and really caring about every patient.”
What these students provide transcends race, religion and politics. They’re spreading goodwill and better health. They don’t have classes or exams while they’re overseas, they just work.
What did Tazzi learn about chiropractic care while he was in India?
“What we have is a gift, but it didn’t hit me until after treatment. A lot of them had eight, nine years of pain,” he said. “Doing therapy and stretches and adjustments and seeing their instant relief, them jumping off the table with a smile on their face or tearfully joyful — that’s amazing.”
He said that was a common experience for all of the students. In America, he explained, most patients they see are generally healthy, so the Indians’ reaction was different. He said there was overwhelming relief and pleasure.
And what did he learn about himself? His confidence grew.
“I have a lot more knowledge than I thought I had,” he said, smiling.
Curry-Whitcomb took her first Palmer trip to Brazil in 2001. She sets up the clinics through Palmer alumni or missionary chiropractors.
She tells how their interpreters started out as kids years ago and are now young adults. The teens teach the Palmer students how to run a clinic after learning from other Palmer students in the early years.
“They’ve also learned about our American culture,” Curry-Whitcomb said, “and they can’t get good peanut butter there, so they always push us to ‘bring peanut butter!’ ”
In the Caribbean, Dr. Mansholt said they worked on the veranda of a guest house because there wasn’t anything resembling a clinic. They had no air-conditioning, no screens and lined up next to each other, helping one another.
“They grow — rapidly,” she said.
Mansholt’s role is that of an on-call supervisor. The students work under her license and, once she sees their strengths and weaknesses, gauges how much she should help each one. There aren’t any X-ray machines to give them insight and rarely anyone they can refer to regarding each patient. Hospital access is available, but limited.
The students also make time to do presentations in the schools to help educate children. Those kids go home and explain the chiropractic concept to their parents and the patient load grows as the week goes on. The message is: “Doctors are coming to our country and they want to help us.” Patients come from miles around.
Palmer had been to most of the locations before, so many who live there look forward to the students’ visits. One patient exclaimed that she had been praying to God and was so happy the Palmer delegation had arrived. Most places have socialized health care, Curry-Whitcomb said. They can go to a doctor when there’s an opening, “but it’s1950s health care.”
Mansholt said, “It’s just a wonderful way that I get to work with the students while they broaden their experience as they educate the world about chiropractic, helping people in less-fortunate areas.
“It gives them a greater understanding of other people’s conditions in life, and that’s an invaluable lesson.”