UC College of Allied Health Sciences instructor Maureen Sackenheim and four students in the sonography training program traveled to Guatemala for their 2006 spring break.
But while traditional "spring breakers" were out enjoying the sandy beaches, this student/teacher team provided much-needed medical imaging to more than 150 people in the town of Sumpango.
Sonography, or ultrasound, is an imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to construct visual images of organs, tissues or blood flow inside the body. This type of imaging is most widely recognized for its use in examining the female reproductive system, but sonography can also be used to scan the abdomen, prostate, breast, heart and blood vessels.
"Sonography is a radiation-free imaging modality, and it has become very mobile," says Sackenheim. "We took a portable machine with us on our trip and were able to scan patients for many different medical problems.
"On our first day we scanned 60 people," says Sackenheim. "Ten to 15 people would be closer to the norm."
And the pace didn't slow down. The group saw more than 150 patients in three days.
The group set up shop in a Sumpango doctor's office. In this garage-style space-where the full waiting room and exam table sat virtually side-by-side-they formed a human chain to protect the privacy of patients being scanned.
"Access to what we view as 'normal,' everyday health care did not exist in Sumpango," says Sackenheim. "Equipment is very outdated. The on-site sonography machine was very old."
Standards of health care differ greatly between Cincinnati and Sumpango, but the toughest part for this team, says Sackenheim, was the language difference.
"Typing patient reports in Spanish was extremely difficult at first. The students on the trip had some experience with the language, but we also had help from a young girl working in the doctor's office."
The group hopes to travel to Guatemala again next year and will work to encourage colleagues to join them on the next trip.
"This trip not only provided much-needed health care to the local Mayan people, but it also instilled a sense of service in our students," says Sackenheim. "I'm very proud of their work."
In 2003, the UC College of Allied Health Sciences received funding from the Health Alliance to add a sonography imaging component to the bachelor of science program in advanced medical imaging technology. Since its inception, the program has trained 30 students.