International service trip offers insights into healthcare in U.S.

By Rich Schneider, IU Communication Specialist:

More than miles separate the U.S. and Ecuador when it comes to health conditions in the two countries. Still, Karen Klutzke says she will draw on her experiences in that South American country when she begins her career as a physician assistant later this year.

Klutzke will be among the first students to graduate in August from the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program in the Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Students spend 15 months of the 27-month-long academic program in the classroom and the remainder in clinical rotations, some of which can be chosen as electives. For an elective, Klutzke joined an international service trip March 6 to 14 that was organized by Timmy Global Health, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that expands access to health care and empowers students and volunteers to tackle today’s most pressing global health challenges.

It had been Klutzke’s long-held dream to participate in an international service trip, but something always had always kept her from going.

“I’ve grown up and lived in Indiana my entire life,” said Klutzke, who raised a family and formerly worked as an art director for a nonprofit organization. “I wanted to get a change of perspective, see more of the world, learn more about other cultures and put it in a more of a global perspective.

“When Timmy Global Health representatives came and spoke to students in the physician assistant program, their vision — that all people should have access to quality health care — woke in me a desire to serve internationally, to help impact global health care disparities, and to be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said.

The trip Klutzke chose was to Chontapunta, Ecuador. There, the volunteers traveled to a different village each day to set up a clinic site, five sites total over the course of the trip. Each of the villages consisted of 20 to 50 families. Some of the villages had electricity and clean water; some did not.

Klutzke worked under the supervision of a doctor, helped out in the pharmacy and triage areas, hauled boxes and did anything else that needed to be done.

Karen Klutzke counts and bags vitamins at the end of the day to pass out at the next day's clinic.

Karen Klutzke, far left, counts and bags vitamins at the end of the day to pass out at the next day’s clinic.

“I saw many cases of parasitic infections, upper-respiratory infections, overuse injuries and osteoarthritis,” Klutzke said. “One woman who came to our clinic was septic, and although we were able to arrange immediate transportation to a hospital for her, the hospital was still over four hours away.

“I don’t think you could go to Ecuador and not be affected,” Klutzke said. “The thing I took away from the trip is an awareness of health disparities that exist between the U.S. and how people in a lot of other places in the world live. There is a strong need to address those issues and improve people’s quality of life.”

Although Indianapolis and its surrounding areas are far from being as poor as Chontapunta, health disparity exists here as well, Klutzke said. “My experience in Ecuador has inspired me to not only continue to serve internationally, but to also take a more active role in local community medicine. I hope to make a difference both globally and locally, one patient at a time.”

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