OHSU Medical Students Travel the World Then Come Home to Help Others in Need

06/06/01    Portland, Ore.

Jill Pavliscak and Dan McMillan went to medical school because they wanted to have a positive impact on the planet.

They picked Oregon Health & Science University's School of Medicine because of its strong family practice program and its emphasis on community service.

"OHSU stands out in wanting to get out in underserved areas. The faculty helps students to do this," Pavliscak said.

The two will be among the more than 600 OHSU graduates on Friday, June 8 at 8 p.m. in the Arlene Schnitzer Hall for the Performing Arts. McMillan will be awarded the Humanism in Medicine Award at the event. He was selected for this award by his class and the faculty as always demonstrating care and compassion in dealing with patients.

During their years at OHSU they have given much of their time to help those in need locally and internationally.

Locally they have volunteered at Neighborhood Health Clinic and Wallace Concern, two free clinics serving Portland's indigent population, and have worked with area schools to educate their students about tobacco use, sexually transmitted diseases and gun violence. Internationally, they spent more than a year learning about those in need in three different countries and trying to have a positive impact.

The two worked several months in Nicaragua helping a local physician in a rural health care project. After their third year, they took off a year to work in a rural clinic in Guatemala. Just before finishing medical school they spent a month in Nepal helping local physicians with their patients and giving public health talks to health care workers.

The couple met at Oregon Health & Science University. They were good friends the first year. Then, the summer before their second year, they both were accepted into the American Medical Students Association MedServe Program and were assigned to Nicaragua. Working together in Nicaragua, their friendship grew. They are to be married soon after graduating.

After their travels, they both have come to the conclusion that they would rather work with underserved communities in the United States than in primary care in underdeveloped countries.

Pavliscak is thoughtful as she explains this. Her brown hair is back in a ponytail. She and Dan are tan and wear shorts, T-shirts and sandals.

"It was very frustrating. We're trained so differently in this country. I felt like we were trying to impose our health care system into their very different culture. I just didn't feel we could make an impact," Pavliscak said.

For example, in Guatemala, a woman came into the clinic. She was in advanced labor. The baby was breach. Pavliscak had to get her to the nearest hospital for a Caesarean section to save the baby. That meant a trip of more than an hour on the river by motorboat. The woman delivered the baby on the boat, but it did not live. The woman did make it to the hospital where she had blood transfusions.

"It was hard. I was depressed and angry. I saw her as a symbol of all things that were Guatemala: the lack of education for women, women's position in that culture. Her extreme modesty, which is typical there, prevented her from coming in sooner. It was really too late by the time she got here," Pavliscak said.

McMillan agreed. In Nepal he had difficulty changing, through education, the cultural habit of health care workers, who assist in births, putting cow dung on the umbilical stub as a way to cut down on infection.

"It was frustrating, but it's helped us understand our patients here from different cultures. And it's made us appreciate our health care," he said.

Although they don't want to work internationally in their careers, they will still continue working with underserved people in this country. After commencement they will complete their residencies working in underserved multicultural health clinics.

"We hope to have more of an impact here," McMillan said.

After their residencies they both have three-year commitments to the federal government to work in an underserved community through the National Health Service Corps scholarship program

They hope someday to return to Oregon to work because they have enjoyed the state as well as their work here.