Student Spotlight: Katie O'Keefe

This month we talked with Katie, a PA student, who joined a mission trip to Honduras with AHU Campus Ministries and AdventHealth Global Missions to spend a week doing clinical work in rural communities.

Katie checking vitals of one of the children in the Honduras community she visited on her mission trip.

Name: Katie O'Keefe
Program: M.S. Physician Assistant
Hometown: Deland, FL
Favorite thing to order from NESS Café: Tostones with mojo

Can you tell me about where you visited on your trip and how it was meaningful to you?

I traveled to Honduras in partnership with AHU and AdventHealth Global Missions. The trip was seven days and there we had a group of 20 people, six of us were PA students here at AHU. We spent five days doing clinicals and two days traveling. In total we cared for over 800 people, meaning our group saw around 200 people a day.

Group photo of the mission trip to Honduras pose together.
Katie (front right) posing with the mission trip group in front of the Hospital Adventista Valle de Angeles

We stayed in the more populated city, Valle de Angeles, and we would take hour long (sometimes more) bus rides every day to very rural communities and set up health clinics, mainly at schools. We traveled to a different community every day. Families would walk miles to come get medical care. Some of the families in these areas didn’t have vehicles and lived on about $20 a month. That was incredibly humbling.

One classroom was designated as the vitals area. Patients would have their blood pressure, pulse oximetry, temperature, and weight recorded. The second classroom was where the patients were seen by the providers which included NPs, PAs, and doctors. The third classroom was dedicated to our pharmaceutical supplies and distribution of these items. We had a very large selection of medication including antibiotics like amoxicillin, albendazole for parasites, HTN medications like lisinopril, and diabetes medications like metformin among a large variety of others.

AdventHealth Global Missions travels to these same rural communities about every 6-9 months. This aspect was very important to me when considering mission trips. This gives these communities more continuous care.

Katie smiles and poses with two other mission trip volunteers.

What were some moments that stood out to you during this trip?

There were many moments that stood out to me. However, there was an elderly woman on our last day of clinic that I will never forget. She was about 90 years old and had a 15-inch ulceration on her leg that was about a half inch deep and covered almost her entire shin. We weren’t sure if she was injured in a fall and/or had a vascular disease, but it looked very painful. Our team cleaned the wound, gave an antibiotic shot, and covered the wound in appropriate medical dressings.

Mission trip group pray together in a circle.

The women started crying from the pain while the nurse was cleaning her wound. It was rather heartbreaking. Several of us held her hand, rubbed her back, and prayed for her. One of the girls even started singing which really helped calm the woman down. It was a very intense and memorable moment for all of us. We were doing our best to support her through her pain and we could tell it helped. Moments like that always remind me of why I wanted to a healthcare provider.

Members of AdventHealth Global Missions pose together.

What are some major takeaways from your trip?

There were a few things that really stood out to me. First, even though there was 200 people waiting in line a day, and families had to wait in the heat for hours, nobody complained about the wait or seemed frustrated. Everyone was grateful to be there. Americans get mad about having to wait just 10 minutes for something. Second, the children really touched me. We had hundreds of kids come to our clinics. While they waited in line we had bubbles and chalk to entertain them. A few of us made a hopscotch board and taught them how to play - they loved it. It was so much fun to see kids just playing and getting excited over chalk and bubbles.

Katie playing hopscotch with children in the Honduras community.

Lastly, I became very aware of how privileged we are here, even with seemingly small things. If we feel sick, we can easily drive (or bike) to the store and buy some Nyquil, cough drops, or acetaminophen. Some of the areas we visited didn’t have access to any of these basic medicines, or it was well beyond their financial means to purchase. It was a blessing to be able to provide medical resources to those communities.

Katie kneels with the children while they color in books.

Why did you choose PA?

My path to PA school was a little different than most. My undergraduate degree is actually in Marketing and after college I became a medical device sales representative. After a few years, I realized that the moments I enjoyed most were interacting with the patients and their families. I strived to deepen my understanding of medicine and have more responsibility in the patient’s treatment and care.

It was my exposure to PAs while working in medical sales that inspired me to return to school and change my career. I always noticed how caring, positive, and friendly the PAs were to their patients and their families. I also witnessed PAs assist in surgery, and sometimes even perform the majority of the surgery. Meanwhile, they seemed to have a healthy work-life balance and were there for their families. Additionally, PAs are trained to practice in literally any area of medicine. The idea that I could work in the emergency department for a few years and then transition into dermatology was extremely appealing to me. I felt really connected to the PA profession and could see myself being very fulfilled with this career path.

How did you find out about AHU and decide to attend?

A PA I knew mentioned that Florida Hospital College (at the time) had a PA program and I should check it out. I went to an open house and fell in love with the program and beautiful campus. It was very apparent that the students loved being here and that made a lasting impression on me. I noticed the program was very different from other schools because I could tell the faculty really cared about their students.

Also, I felt like the mission of AHU and the PA program aligned with how I wanted to practice medicine; faith based and addressing the whole person. The program really emphasizes being knowledgeable and professional, but also compassionate towards your patients. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be attending this program.

What do you like best about AHU?

I love the size of the school and how it really feels like a tight-knit community. It’s so nice to see familiar faces and be surrounded by students working towards a similar goal. I completed my undergraduate degree at UCF and my class was filled with 200 people! It made it difficult to learn the information, and there was no real connection to my professors and other students. Meanwhile, our PA program has 30 people. I can sit up front, ask questions, and reach out to my professors after classes if I need additional help.

I really can’t say enough good things about the faculty at AHU and in our PA program. Our professors really believe and care about us, and it inspires me to be better.

Any advice for new students?

Get involved and use resources that are available to you. I’m not always able to make it, but I love going to the Anderson House prayer breakfast at 7:30am on Wednesdays. It’s a great opportunity to meet other students, have some coffee and delicious food, and listen to the chaplain’s message of the day.

Niesha and Reynold are always so positive, funny, and uplifting. School and life can be really stressful, but it important to take care of yourself and try to manage your stress in a positive and productive manner.

Any fun facts about you?

Something a little different about me is that I haven’t been driving for the past 7 months. Instead, I ride my bike, Uber, or take the SunRail everywhere. It started out as a way to save money in graduate school, but I actually really love it! It’s about a 6-mile bike ride round trip from home to school and It has been a great way to work out, listen to lectures, and get more vitamin D.

We love hearing the experiences of our students. Their dedication to serving others and uncommon compassion continues to inspire us.

Want to learn how you can make a difference? Come Join us.

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