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June 24, 2014
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Respiratory therapy, medical students to volunteer in Nicaragua

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Upstate Medical University Respiratory Therapy students Alex Tabone and Catie Zopf still have a month to brush up on their Spanish.

They leave for Nicaragua in mid-July for a two-week medical mission organized by Upstate’s Center for Civic Engagement. Tabone and Zopf will be joined by nine Upstate medical students who will shadow and assist health care providers in Nicaraguan villages.

Tabone, from Auburn, and Zopf, from Liverpool, learned last fall about the Nicaragua opportunity from former Respiratory Therapy student Adlin Noel. Last summer, Noel joined four medical students and one nursing student for two weeks of volunteering and shadowing rural health care providers through the Enlace Project.

Tabone and Zopf said they’ve benefited from informational sessions led by Upstate MPH student Roberto Martinez, a physician from Nicaragua who is active in Amos, another not-for-profit health care organization in his home country.

Two groups of Upstate students are heading to Nicaragua this summer. The first — medical students Sarah Lopez, Elizabeth Magowan, Lauren McDonough, Jennifer Sasson, Kathryn Schnapp and Christopher Valenti — leaves July 12 for three weeks. The second — Tabone and Zopf and medical students Rosemarie Mastropolo, Robert Stuver and John Pyun — leaves July 18. Both groups return at the same time.

Tabone and Zopf admit their Spanish has gotten rusty since high school, and are glad an interpreter will be with them.

“I’m sure that once we get down there, it will come back,” Tabone said. Zopf has seen Spanish-speaking patients in her clinical rotations in Respiratory Therapy, so she’s had a bit of a head start.

Opportunities for international travel are an important draw for students interested in health careers. Zopf said when she served on a student panel at an Upstate open house this year, several prospective students expressed interest in international trips offering clinical experience.

The Nicaragua trip will be Zopf’s first international excursion; Tabone spent two weeks in London for a class at Cayuga Community College.

Students will stay in pairs with host families in Nicaragua, and groups of three students will be assigned to work with a physician in rural clinics, assisting with health assessments, vaccinations and other routine procedures.

While Tabone and Zopf have had some hands-on clinical experience in their rotations at Crouse and St. Joseph’s hospitals, the medical students on the trip recently finished their first year at Upstate, much of which is spent in the classroom.

Given everyone’s limited clinical experience, Tabone and Zopf said the trip will benefit all of them.

“I’m proud of being able to make a difference in a developing country,” Tabone said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

“It will be nice to look back years from now and remember such a worthwhile experience from college,” Zopf said. “I want to gain a different cultural perspective.”

Caption: Upstate Respiratory Therapy students Catie Zopf and Alex Tabone will join nine medical students from Upstate on a medical mission to Nicaragua this summer.

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