Current Editors: Keith Wagner and Michael Ryan

Past Editors: Tim Allen, Kristyna Gleghorn, Dung Mac, Alex Acosta, William Tausend, Sheila Jalalat, Rebecca Philips, Chelsea Altinger, Lindsey Hunter, Alison Wiesenthal, Leslie Scroggins, Mara Dacso, Ashley Group, Fadi Constantine, Emily Fridlington, Joslyn Witherspoon, Tasneem Poonawalla.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

DIG Interviews Dr. Ashley Sturgeon of Texas Tech HSC on Medical Volunteerism

At the recent Texas Dermatology Society meeting in Lubbock TX (Oct 2015), Dr. Ashley Sturgeon presented on “International and Domestic Volunteer Experiences and Ethical Dilemmas.” Dr. Sturgeon is an assistant professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, TX. She is a board certified dermatologist with interests in Mohs micrographic surgery, cosmetics, general dermatology, and medical volunteerism. Her most recent endeavor is a dermatology-related medical mission trip to Nicaragua. UTMB DIG members were able to inquire Dr. Sturgeon more on her volunteer experiences in an email interview. 

DIG: Can you describe to us your medical mission to Nicaragua? 
Dr. Sturgeon: Our medical mission is based in Jinotega, several hours on a bus from the capital city of Managua. It is in a beautiful mountainous rainforest, fed by the economy from coffee production. We often travel during the day to rural communities that are hugely underserved, particularly from the medicine standpoint. 8-10 providers are able to see around 2000 patients per week. Many people in these rural communities never leave their hometown. There is no consistent follow up for these patients, unless they are able to travel to the “home base” in Jinotega, where there is a year-round clinic with a local doctor that serves 900 patients a month with a budget of $1200 a month for medications. I treated patients with a huge range of medical conditions from rare dermatologic diseases to heart murmurs to bizarre malignancies. 

DIG: Can you share with us a memorable moment during your trip? 
Dr. Sturgeon: I remember one patient I saw, a young mother who was visibly cushingoid from years of oral steroids for severe asthma. She came in huffing and puffing, barely able to breathe, and probably in adrenal crisis. She had taken at least 40mg of prednisone per day since she was a child and the local clinic had no more. We were able to give her extra prednisone to have in reserve for when this happened – even a layperson knows it’s dangerous to stop oral corticosteroids abruptly. She was so ill that, if in the United States, I would have intubated her: not an option in rural Nicaragua. 

DIG: How has the medical mission impacted you? 
Dr. Sturgeon: Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest country in the world, with a history riddled with civil wars and economic collapse. Most people there live on less than a dollar or two a day. Despite this, the people of Nicaragua are amazingly resilient. They are a smiling, happy people with a culture of hard work and survivalism. I went to make a difference for the people there; I know they did more for me than I did for them. I am a better doctor and a better human being because of my trips. The experience of helping those who have nowhere else to turn to is incredibly moving.