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Odyssey Project Motivates Aspiring Healthcare Professionals to Explore the Kidney Transplant Field

Nicaragua Odyssey group in the clinic_web.jpg

CONWAY, Ark. (April 19, 2018) – Hendrix College Professor of Spanish Dr. José Vilahomat and Professor Irmina Fabricio, an instructor of Spanish, spent Spring Break 2018 traveling with six Hendrix students to learn about kidney transplants and kidney disease in Nicaragua, home to one of the world’s highest incidences of kidney disease.

The five-day trip, made possible by funding from the Hendrix Odyssey Program, was geared toward students interested in careers in the medical field, whose majors included pre-medicine, health science, biology, and biochemistry, and who have completed the Spanish 120 course at Hendrix. With a focus on kidney transplants and an emphasis on communication in Spanish, the trip included talking with specialists and surgeons, learning about past and present methodologies and the nature of the Nicaraguan healthcare system, and participating in conferences with medical professionals.

To prepare for the experience, students researched and made presentations on a variety of topics that would relate to the medical focus of their trip, such as public health in Nicaragua, the history of the use of antibiotics, and various aspects of kidney function and the transplantation process. 

“Combining the pre-med major with Spanish is already common at Hendrix, and so this immersive experience builds on and strengthens that path for students,” said Vilahomat. This is the third edition of Exploring Aspects of Nicaraguan Healthcare System, which has earned praise because of the close interaction students have with high-profile surgeons and specialists throughout the trip, including their participation in ecotourism excursions such as volcano hiking and zip lining through the cloud forest.

The students used their Spanish language skills in visiting a hospital and a private clinic, where they heard presentations by medical professionals and had the chance to ask questions and receive answers in Spanish. Students had the occasion to get to know Dr. Silvio Rodríguez González, the surgeon who performed Nicaragua’s first kidney transplants, interact with him in different venues, and visit Hospital Salud Integral to tour a hemodialysis room and other hospital facilities with him as their guide. Students also visited Dr. Rodríguez’s private clinic, heard lectures, and interacted with the presentation by reading excerpts of the conference and actively participating in Q&A sessions. Along the way, conversations with Vilahomat and Fabricio helped students articulate the most relevant aspects of the information they gathered and experiences they shared. 

“Being a very meticulous and organized person myself, I felt that I connected with Dr. Rodríguez,” wrote Hendrix student Kaersti McLellan ’19 in her reflections following the trip. “I always knew I enjoyed dissections and watching surgeries, but as a junior starting my application to medical school, I hope to begin pursuing this interest further and truly figure out if a surgery or a transplant specialty is where I need to be.”

“From a medical standpoint, I grew as a student who is interested in working as a medical professional who can communicate with others in languages other than English,” said Savannah Wiegel ’21. “I also experienced some cultural differences and how learning such formal Spanish in my high school classroom differed from the Spanish I was immersed in in Nicaragua. I realized how crucial it is for me to work on my Spanish speaking skills every day instead of only during class.”

In addition to McLellan and Wiegel, students who participated in the trip were Roshaneh Ali ’19, Graham Harris ’18, Kyle O’Connor ’20, and Lauren Petrisin ’18. 

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit