All registered dietitian nutritionists and nutrition professionals should stay aware of global health, specifically issues regarding global nutrition. During the second year of my combined dietetic internship and master’s program at Rush University Medical Center, I spent a week in Belize City as a member of an interdisciplinary medical mission trip team from Rush. We had the opportunity to build a house for a deserving family, work in a local clinic and learn about healthcare in Belize.
The outpatient clinic I worked in served a primarily geriatric population, and many of the clinic’s patients had Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. I provided one-on-one nutrition counseling and group nutrition lessons to community members, most of whom spoke English. Through the counseling, I was able to gather that the older adults with diabetes in Belize City had very little knowledge of foods that are rich in carbohydrates. And it appeared that given poor water sanitation throughout Belize, residents were choosing to purchase juices and regular sodas instead of purchasing purified water. Consuming large amounts of these beverages can contribute significantly to the development and progression of Type 2 diabetes.
The group lessons focused on general healthy eating education. The clinic patients were very receptive to the various nutrition educations and handouts, asking questions related to the foods they consume on a daily basis and ways to eat healthier.
Our team also had the opportunity to hear from the staff at a local HIV pediatric clinic on how they seek to provide and improve care to minors in the face of significant cultural stigma and discrimination. We learned that AIDS is the leading cause of death for Belizeans between the ages of 15 and 49. Additionally, a member of the family we built the home for had HIV and was particularly affected by the stigma that accompanied the diagnosis. Hopefully the new home made a significant impact on this person, as it offered a safe, clean environment while also serving as a symbol of hope for his recovery.
Working in an international clinic provided me with the opportunity to work with patients from another country and learn first-hand about health care in Belize. All health care professionals can benefit from medical mission trips as they provide a chance to gain a different and unique perspective when it comes to patient care. Medical mission trips provide not only RDNs and dietetics students, but all health care students and professionals, with the opportunity to bring unique cultural experiences and perspectives back to their home country for use in their own practice.