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The Dominican Republic is a popular spring break destination for students to enjoy the sun and sand during a relaxing week on the beach. But for one Auburn student, a trip there was a chance to apply her classroom education to gain some practical experience.

As a public and One Health major, Lily Henderson’s studies focus on a more holistic approach to health and medicine, considering the health of humans, animals and the environment, as well as their interconnectedness.

“Health involves socioeconomics, surrounding environment, genetics and related systems,” said Henderson, a sophomore on the pre-physician assistant track. “This semester, I am enrolled in the course Global and Comparative Health Systems, and I’m learning that each health system is different and there is a history that led to the creation of each system.”

This spring, Henderson took a course offered by the College of Human Sciences and Individuals Moving People and Communities Together (IMPACT)’s Alternative Breaks, a student volunteer organization that offers educational and substance-free service trips during academic breaks. The class taught her and her classmates ethical service and cultural sensitivity while preparing them to travel to the Dominican Republic and work with a nonprofit called the DREAM Project.

"We collaborated with DREAM's educational programs involving literacy aid and physical activity,” Henderson said. “The program reaches out to children of all ages within the Cabarete community.”

Students traveling with Alternative Breaks were also given the opportunity to work with another partnering organization, the Association for the Development of San José de Ocoa (ADESJO), where Henderson learned how to take people’s blood pressure and blood sugar levels during a series of home visits and met several medical professionals from a wide variety of different fields and positions. She gained practical experience with ADESJO as well as a better understanding of the Dominican Republic’s health system.

“The people in the Dominican Republic have great respect and close relationships with their health care providers,” Henderson said. “I learned a very patient-centered and positive perspective as a provider that I will apply to my practice as a physician assistant.”

Many of Henderson’s classmates on the trip are also majoring in health care-related fields, including health administration and child life. They left with a vast amount of knowledge they will be able to apply to future classes in their major.

As someone who has now returned from an Alternative Breaks trip, Henderson recommends that anyone pursuing a career in health care or child care should apply to the program as a way to gain the same practical experience she did.

“If you are a health-related major, this trip provides so much knowledge on health systems, approaches and challenges,” Henderson said. “As someone pursuing a career in pediatrics, the trip also provided me with a great opportunity to interact with children from different backgrounds and cultures.”