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Paying it Forward: The Impact of a Mutually Beneficial International Service-Learning Course

As an eleven-year-old, Taylor Faherty saw firsthand the impact doctors had on her grandmother as she fought through lymphoma. Since then, becoming a doctor is all Taylor has ever wanted to do. But like many pre-med students, Taylor has had doubts, “I would say a lot of times there were questions in the back of my mind, ‘Can I do this?’ ‘Am I smart enough to do this?’ ‘Do I have the abilities, and am I capable of actually becoming a doctor?’”

Taylor put her doubts to rest in UNIV 290: International Healthcare. In this service-learning class, Dr. Patrick Hickey leads Capstone students abroad, where they assist doctors in local clinics to explore the medical field.

The more education you get the more you can share with the people you interact with, and the more you can help.

- Dr. Patrick Hickey

Taylor remembers the first time she was in a clinic in Costa Rica. “It was my first time taking a patient’s vital signs. I listened to the heart, took blood pressure, and did the work-up of the patient. I listened to an 85-year-old woman’s heart rate and I remember thinking that I heard a heart murmur. But I wasn’t sure. I was nervous and the doctor was intimidating. I presented the case to the doctor and he listened to her heart, and I swear it was the longest minute of my life. I distinctly remember him looking up from his stethoscope and giving me this huge grin, and he was like ‘you totally just diagnosed a shallow heart murmur’. It was in that moment that I knew I could become a doctor.” Because of Taylor’s experience in Costa Rica, she now wants to be a cardiologist. After the course ended and Taylor returned to campus, Dr. Hickey connected her with a cardiologist in Columbia who she has shadowed.

Dr. Hickey, who has taught the course for over ten years, says that the hands-on nature of the course helps students become more confident. “When it comes to experiential, hands-on education, that’s where students really learn. When students are actually in the clinic, taking vital signs for the first time or helping with a diagnosis, you see their level of self-confidence climb.” According to Dr. Hickey, another powerful aspect of the course is that working with patients and doctors serves as a motivation for students to invest in their education. Dr. Hickey tells his students, “The more education you get the more you can share with the people you interact with, and the more you can help.”

This lesson has stayed with students like Zach Travis. Zach enrolled in the course as a sophomore and served as a student leader on the trip his senior year. For Zach, knowing that he would one day impact people as a surgeon helped to push him when he needed motivation. “The spring semester of my junior year was the most overwhelming semester of my life. I was taking 18 credits, studying for the MCAT, and was president of two organizations. It was brutal. I came to a point where I wondered, ‘What if I don’t do this? What if I put off the MCAT, drop a class, or pull back on my course load?’”

I learned that we have so much power to impact other people’s lives and that community service is something that I’m passionate about.

- Taylor Faherty

Zach met with Dr. Hickey who became one of his mentors after their trip to Nicaragua. “At the end of the conversation he had me talk through some of the cases we had seen in Nicaragua, because he remembered how fired up I was about healthcare when I came back from the trip. It was a guided reflection, and I came out of the meeting with a light at the end of the tunnel. I remembered that at the end of all of this hard work is a rewarding career.”

The impact that this course has had on students is not confined to the parameters of the semester. Both Zach and Taylor credit Dr. Hickey with teaching them about the importance of paying it forward. Taylor says that participating in a service-learning course with Dr. Hickey sparked an interest in service that continues today, “My experience on this trip pushed me to join other service organizations on campus like the Waverly After-School Program. I learned that we have so much power to impact other people’s lives and that community service is something that I’m passionate about.”

Last spring, Dr. Hickey retired from his position as the Faculty Principal of the Capstone Scholars Program, but he will continue to have an impact by teaching UNIV 290: International Healthcare next semester. In many ways, and for many students, Dr. Hickey has created a ripple effect of impact. Hanging on the wall of his home is a gift from a student with a note attached, it reads, “Dr. Hickey, you told me to always pay it forward; don’t worry, I will.”

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