New Jersey students assist with surgeries on children in Ecuador

While other college students headed somewhere warm this past March for spring break, students at Berkeley College in Newark were not only able to escape the cold but partake in the opportunity of a lifetime as well.  

"We strongly believe in the school of health that learning does not take place only in a classroom setting," said Dr. Eva Skuka, the dean of the School of Health Studies. "Especially when it comes to learning of the most important skill that a healthcare professional should have and that is compassion."

Berkeley College partnered with Healing the Children of New Jersey to allow the students to travel abroad on medical missions to Guayaquil, Ecuador, focusing on pediatric urology. The school covers the airfare while the organization pays for the hotel and food.

"Being able to see the patients journey from beginning to end makes them better healthcare professionals," said Joe Charleman, the chair of surgical technology and a surgical processing technician. "That's an experience they wouldn't get here in the United States."

This year, a group of seven students and faculty assisted with 34 surgeries at the Roberto Gilbert Children's Hospital. The college also brought their own instruments to perform the operations.

"If you ask those students right now, 'Would you rather go on spring break or go on a medical mission?' they'd be at the airport ready to go back on another medical mission," Charleman said.

The hands-on experience gave the students a better perspective. For one student who created a special bond with a little boy who was one of her patients, the experience altered more than the course of her career.

"I just miss it a lot, " said Selena Campos, a surgical processing technician student. "I'd rather be over there than here because they need a lot of help and it's just very life-changing."