A pair of Williamsport Family Medicine Residency Program doctors got a crash course on the health care needs of southern India when they spent five days reaching out to people there.
"It is an area that doesn't have the most basic of health care needs being met," said Dr. Matthew Meeker.
Contrast that, said Dr. Catherine Boucher, to the U.S., where people often complain "they can't get the highest quality of health care."
Dr. Matthew Meeker and Dr. Catherine Boucher stand in front of the monastery they worked at during a five-day mission to southern India.
The two resident doctors flew in October to the Asian country with a team of nine medical professionals to provide free medical care to Tibetan monks, nuns and laymen in a poor rural farming area.
They landed in Mumbai, India's most populous city, before traveling to the Loseling Clinic near Hubli. The clinic is run by the charitable medical organization, Loseling Altruistic Medical Association, an extension of the Drepung Loseling Monastery.
While there, the doctors set up a small pharmacy, stocking it with over-the-counter medications donated by Glaxo Smith Kline, as well as toothpaste, tooth brushes and glasses for reading and sun protection.
"They don't even have things like Tylenol," said Meeker, a graduate of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
What the people do have is poverty.
"There are two main groups of people we saw," Meeker said. "The Tibetan monks generally are well taken care of. With the lay Indian people, you saw malnourishment. Their diets appear to be mostly rice."
Boucher said nutrition problems likely had something to do with the very look of the people. Children appeared much smaller and younger than American kids, while middle-aged residents looked older than their years.
The residents provided care to more than 1,000 patients.
Meeker said it was a lot of work, even exhausting, but certainly a unique and rewarding experience.
"At one point, we saw 60 women in three hours," Boucher added.
The two residents noted they treated a whole host of medical problems.
"We treated everything from high blood pressure to headaches,"
Meeker said. "There were a lot of pain complaints."
He noted that the Buddhist monks were in generally better health than the farmers and other residents, who likely had never seen a doctor.
Dehydration also is a problem as many of the people don't have access to clean water supplies. Overall, preventive medical issues were a big issue.
"We saw a lot of sports-related injuries," said Boucher, who noted that young monks there were on holiday and had played soccer.
It was the first trip overseas for Boucher, a native of Bangor, Maine, and a graduate of the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine.
"It was eye-opening," she said. "The sights and sounds were very different."
People lived pretty much in squalor in the refugee camps, she said.
The roads in the area are mostly dirt and many people are without access to modern transportation.
Both residents would love to either return or make a trip to another Third World nation to provide health care.
"Definitely, I would like to continue with it," Meeker said, while adding, "You do miss the comforts of home."
She said the group of health care professionals were treated well and provided with housing and food, although most avoided drinking the water.
The monks, nuns and villagers could not have been more thankful for the care they received.
"People would thank you and give you hugs," Meeker recalled. "The monks put on a ceremony for us at the end. They had a special dinner. The gave us gifts."
Boucher recalled with fondness the little girl she cared for who wanted to come home with her.
Meeker said he was impressed to see how dedicated the Buddhists are to their spiritual journey.
"It was a great experience. It was something new to me," he said.