Service overseas

UWL pre-dental students Isabelle Kick and Amanda Wiebke spend time with kids in the community of Las Matas.

Seven pre-health students team up with surgeon to provide healthcare in Dominican Republic village

Traveling through small villages in the Dominican Republic, UWL student Isabelle Kick noticed a very different way of life. People didn’t have access to resources most Americans take for granted — from clean tap water to regular teeth cleanings.

As the pre-health student assisted with dental checkups, she discovered what a lack of dental care looked like up close. She observed as one woman had eight decaying teeth extracted — one of several events that, “absolutely solidified my career path as a dentist,” she says.

Dr. Benjamin Jarman, a general surgeon with Gundersen Health System, says his own path in healthcare started doing mission work in college. That’s part of the reason he thought to recruit college students to join him and a team of La Crosse area volunteers providing healthcare in the Dominican Republic in March.

“I am acutely aware of how impactful such volunteerism can be on students’ development and career motivation,” he says. Plus, students bring “a sense of energy and motivation that is beautiful to witness,” Jarman adds.

Seven UWL students joined Jarman on the trip to provide surgical, medical, physical therapy, dental, integrated health and spiritual services to people in Las Matas de Farfans, Dominican Republic, March 16-24. Their work was part of a Medical Ministry International mission team.

Students who served on the Medical Ministry Trip.
Those with ties to UWL who served on the Medical Ministry International mission team are pictured with Dr. Ben Jarman. From left, Amanda Wiebke, Isabelle Kick, Olivia Leuer, Dr. Ben Jarman, Megan Crawford, Ellie Schuster and Amelia Schlick. UWL student and team member Emilee Kress is not pictured. The entire team included 45 people including individuals from across the nation and the staff from the Dominican Republic.

As the trip’s medical director and primary recruiter, Jarman reached out to UWL’s Erin Flottmeyer, a pre-health advisor, to find student volunteers. Flottmeyer and Josh Bench, coordinator of the pre-health Student Resource Center, emailed students connected through the center. Their initial call for volunteers resulted in almost 40 student responses. They offered the opportunity first to upper classmen, as well as those with passports, which narrowed the list to 15. Those names were shared with Jarman and seven students ultimately followed through with the trip.

“The response was magnificent,” notes Jarman.

Their work was incredible, he adds. “Their energy and spirit were stimulating to the group and to the people we served,” he says.

The environment in the Dominican Republic is not an easy one to adjust to during a week, he adds. Being away from home, having limited access to running water and adjusting to the group schedule and dynamic can all be challenging, he admits. “All of these students persevered, and, I think, gained a life changing experience,” he says.

What separated this trip from others was the very personal touch, notes Flottmeyer. Jarman worked to place students in a variety of settings based on their specific healthcare interests.

“He really took the time to talk to the students and say, ‘What do you want to gain from this? What do you really want to learn?,’” explains Flottmeyer.

UWL student observing a gallbladder removal.
UWL student Ellie Schlick observes a gallbladder removal by a surgical resident at Gundersen.

UWL student Megan Crawford expanded her knowledge and passion in physical therapy by working hands-on with patients and providers in the field.

“This experience opened my eyes to the implementation of healthcare cross-culturally and the importance of cultural competency to effectively provide services,” she says. “Healthcare is so much more than a title; it is a way to serve and use your skills for the greater good.”

Jarman plans on leading another team with Medical Ministry International next year, March 14-22, 2020. UWL students interested in this opportunity can contact Erin Flottmeyer at or 608.785.6961.

About the Pre+Health Student Resource Center
The Pre+Health Student Resource Center, located in 1140 Centennial Hall, is part of the Academic Advising Center and Career Services. The center, which opened in fall 2018, provides students an opportunity to learn about graduate school applications, academic options in pre-health paths, along with networking options with various local and regional organizations.