Medical students spend spring break providing free healthcare in West Texas

PRESIDIO — A free health clinic event arrived in Presidio on Tuesday, as part of a week-long trip by The Texas Rural Health Association at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. No insurance or documentation was needed to access the healthcare provided, and locals turned out to take advantage of the unique opportunity. More care will be available in Candelaria this Friday for those interested.

Students from the Fort Worth-based school gathered in Benito Hall at Santa Teresa Church in Presidio from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering a wide variety of healthcare services that sometimes are unavailable or inaccessible for Presidio residents.

In that time, 24 students, accompanied by two full-fledged physicians, saw around 30 patients. Mallory McMahon, a student who coordinated the school’s spring break mission trip to West Texas, said it was a busy day on the heels of seeing 30 patients in Terlingua on Monday.

The medical students who came are on track to be doctors and are each interested in rural medicine, and “hoping one day we can practice in places like Presidio, Sanderson, Candelaria,” McMahon said.

“The biggest needs in this area are diabetes, hypertension and heart disease,” McMahon said. Through the course of the day, many patients reported symptoms like tiredness, fatigue and weight gain. With lab equipment they had brought along, the students were able to diagnose some patients with diabetes for the first time.

The group offered screenings related to hypertension and diabetes, therapy for soft tissue, muscles and joints, wellness exams, physicals, ultrasounds and diagnostics. They also brought more general adult and pediatric care.

Another common ailment locals reported on Tuesday was physical labor pains from patients overworking their bodies during manual labor jobs. Since the school specializes in osteopathic medicine, students were able to offer day laborers treatment that is similar to a blend of massage therapy and chiropractic work.

The doctors from the school offered prescriptions not only for U.S.-based pharmacies, but information about medicine that would be available in Mexico for those who don’t have insurance or the means to afford the pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

Physician Dr. Bart Pate led the students on their mission trip in Far West Texas. Born and raised in Alpine, he wanted to return to the area he loved and offer help where it is needed. It’s the second annual trip to Far West Texas that the medical school program has taken, with last year’s event happening just days before lockdowns began for COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the focus was not on coronavirus, so there was no testing for COVID-19 or vaccines against the disease. The group did check temperatures upon entry to try to limit exposure to the virus and also brought masks and personal protective equipment to donate to any residents that wanted it.

After a visit to Sanderson on Monday, the group headed to Presidio on Tuesday and to Terlingua Wednesday. On Friday, March 12, the group will set up for one last clinic event at the Santa Teresa Church in Candelaria from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to offer their free services.

McMahon was grateful that the communities in Far West Texas welcomed her and her fellow students to work with them. “For us it’s a learning opportunity, and every patient we see helps us be better physicians,” McMahon said. “As much as we’re helping the community, the community is helping us.”