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VCOM-Virginia Alumni and Students Help Locals in El Salvador on Medical Mission Trip

Olutayo Sogunro, DO, with patient in El Salvador
Olutayo Sogunro, DO, with a patient in El Salvador

Thirty-five students from the VCOM-Virginia campus went to El Salvador on a medical mission trip January 20th to 27th. During their time, they were able to provide medical care for more than 550 patients and visit two local orphanages. Donations like jewelry, glasses and shoes made a huge impact on the local people who have very few possessions.

One volunteer on this trip was Olutayo Sogunro, DO, VCOM-Virginia Class of 2012, who served as a student preceptor. Here’s Dr. Sogunro’s thoughts on the real-world implications of VCOM’s mission to prepare globally-minded, community-focused physicians to meet the needs of rural and medically unserved populations. 

What would you tell students about VCOM’s mission-focused mindset?

VCOM’s mission-focused mindset is something that is very unique and rewarding. It allows physician alumni to give back in more than one way, not just to the areas of Central and Latin America that have great health care disparities and need, but also to the education of future physicians matriculating as VCOM students. It is very humbling to provide the health care that is so needed in these countries and to be a source of guidance for medical students. 

What is your favorite part about mission trips?

Seeing the progression of confidence in the medical students throughout the week is wonderful. Especially the first-and second-year students who have not yet had much clinical experience, start the week off very timid and end the week feeling confident in their skills. It is warming to see them go from classroom skills to clinical in the matter of days. They truly cherish the experience. It is exhilarating and at times sentimental for the physicians to see that excitement for medicine. 

Why is mission work important as an alumna?

It is very important to give back. Medicine is a unique profession in that a lot of medicine learned is experiential and that knowledge is passed through the generations.  Many of us VCOM alumni are still early in our medical careers (VCOM is not that old yet!) so not only can we share our clinical experience, but we are still close enough in years to understand the struggles of current medical students and can also offer general and career advice. We as alumni learned from others who gave their time to teach us, and the art of medicine survives on a pay-it-forward system. 

How is VCOM’s mission changing lives?

VCOM’s mission is changing lives in many ways. One very important one, is in the lives of the patients we give care to in impoverished countries who may not get access to health care any other way.  Another is in the experience it gives to medical students, who volunteer their time. The students learn clinical medical knowledge but also the art of altruism in medicine, which may change or add to their core values and really help encourage future acts of altruism in medicine. I can say this for a fact, because my first mission trip was as a second-year medical student at VCOM and now I love to participate in medical mission trips as an attending physician as much as I can. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I really believe VCOM’s mission-focused mindset exudes from all those involved in the process. Not just the students and physicians, but to the administrators and coordinators. On every trip, I see Dr. And Mrs. Sutphin actively involved in the mission process, from helping with screening eye exams, helping in pharmacy, to making sure everyone has food and water. I love to be part of VCOM’s missions because everyone that is a part of this, truly believes and gives their all to this cause.  It is truly a beautiful thing to be a part of, and I am grateful to be in the VCOM family.