This January, 24 fellow nursing students and I, along with two faculty members, traveled to Costa Rica on a medical mission trip thinking we would help change people’s lives. Little did we know the trip would have a tremendous impact on each of us as well.

For seven days, we lived with host families and immersed ourselves in their culture. We awoke every day to home-cooked breakfasts of eggs, rice and beans, freshly squeezed juice and amazing coffee, then explored breathtaking San Jose and the surrounding area until it was time to set up healthcare clinics.

On the first afternoon, we visited a daycare for 30 children ages one through eight. As our van pulled up, a dozen kids greeted us and waved us through the gates. They were all excited, and it didn’t take long to figure out that they didn’t speak English and we didn’t know much Spanish. We set up stations to check their vital signs, heights and weights, BMIs and dental status. We gave each child a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, which sparked the biggest smiles of appreciation. After the children received their check-ups, we were able to play with them for a while. There may have been a language barrier, but we soon learned laughter is a universal language.

The 25 nursing students pose for a group picture.

The following days were devoted to holding clinics in an old church at the top of a steep hill. Outside the fenced-in wooden building a sign read, “Free healthcare, all are welcome.” Entering the church, we were shocked to see stray dogs wandering around and we were immediately exposed to the smell of dirt and feces. There were eight healthcare stations set up for us to perform what are usually simple tasks, such as checking vital signs, heights and weights, but except for what we brought ourselves, there were no gloves, alcohol swabs or any of the other supplies we are used to having conveniently available.

Before we knew it, people who had heard about the clinics by word of mouth and walked miles for care lined up at the door. Each woman had four or five children with her, most of whom had never seen a doctor. The language barrier was still there, but the smiles showed how appreciative everyone was that we were there. All of us were shocked by how much an impact the smallest thing, like receiving a toothbrush, had on the children.

“The experience made me realize how lucky we are at home and how one can take the smallest things in life for granted,” said Marisa Consalvo ’19 of Dover, N.H.

Brittany Ireland holds a little boy as he uses a stethoscope to listen to her heart.
Brittany Ireland '19 lets a patient listen to her heartbeat.

As our time in Costa Rica wrapped up and we left the clinic on the hill, many students wished they could do more for the community. We boarded the bus in silence, lost in thought. Brittany Callagy ’19 of Salem, N.H., said she’s “never been more humbled by an experience.”

Overall, this trip had a huge impact on all of us. I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life, and I hope to be able to do more mission trips.

Makenzie Welch ’18 is a nursing major from Torrington, Conn., and a member of the Swimming and Diving team. After graduation, she plans to work in the Emergency Department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.