Healing Hands for Those in Need

Doctor of chiropractic students brings pain relief and healing to Oregon’s migrant workers

It’s early on a warm and cloudy morning in July as half a dozen University of Western States students begin unpacking portable adjustment tables under a series of white tents. They practice their Spanish as the workers arrive to start their eight-hour day harvesting strawberries, summer squash and beans.

This is the home and place of work for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Hillsboro, Oregon, and these doctor of chiropractic (DC) students – along with several UWS faculty and other health care professionals – are here to provide free chiropractic care and medical services. Organized by Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center’s Migrant Camp Outreach Program, this is one in a series of experiential learning opportunities that UWS students are passionate about participating in.

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Just What the Doctor Ordered

Every summer, the Virginia Garcia Outreach Team provides medical treatment and health education to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Washington County, Oregon. This year, UWS student and faculty volunteers were invited along with nurses, health educators and other providers to deliver care.

“Our chiropractic students want as much hands-on experience as they can get,” says Christin Bankhead, executive manager of clinical internship. “By offering them a variety of placements, they’re able to expand their skillsets by attending to the health care needs of an increasingly diverse patient community. When the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center invited us to provide care to migrant and seasonal farmworkers this summer, we were eager to involve our students.”

Providing on-site care for the farmworkers allowed senior chiropractic (DC) students the opportunity to address physical issues that they may not have addressed in the classroom or in campus clinics.

“In the beginning of an internship, students mostly gain experience by working on fellow students, either in class or on a rotation at the campus health center,” explains Dr. Craig Kawaoka, clinical educator at UWS and one of the attending physicians at the migrant and seasonal worker health care events over the summer. “Here, they have the opportunity to treat workers who use their bodies in strenuous ways for long shifts. Their musculoskeletal systems encounter different types of stress that must be addressed for long-term health.”

Many of the patients treated by volunteers said they were unfamiliar with chiropractic care.

“One of the biggest things for me was helping people understand how we could make them feel better,” says Gretchen ‘Chenny’ Gonzalez Ramos, UWS DC student. “The health care events were well attended, with lines of people who all wanted to be seen. We really got to work with our hearts. It took some of the mystery out of chiropractic for them.”

Gonzalez Ramos also enjoyed meeting all of the different medical professionals and attending physicians during the program.

“In addition to the UWS team, there were doctors, dentists, nurses, optometrists and more—I liked that it was about all of the systems and areas of the body and how they’re interconnected. When we saw something that wasn’t part of our practice or specialty, we could refer them to another professional the next table down and vice versa.”

Darcy Ogloza, UWS DC student, was eager to provide the farmworkers some immediate relief from pain, and to offer them advice on proper body biomechanics to help prevent injuries in the future.

“I jumped at the chance to participate,” says Ogloza, who is fluent in Spanish. “These people’s bodies take a beating, working in compromised positions for long stretches of time. It was fascinating to see that even the simplest adjustments or showing them proper lifting technique could make a huge difference in how they felt.”

Ogloza is also in the Master of Science in Sports Medicine program. He originally wanted to work with a sports team when he started working in chiropractic, but now he has his eye on opening a multidisciplinary practice for families that also incorporates massage therapy, acupuncture and naturopathy.

“Every person is different and I want to be able to help people improve their whole body system,” says Ogloza. “This event gave me the opportunity to help effect change by alleviating severe back pain and by giving patients exercises and stretches to help manage their pain in the future. The whole process was extremely gratifying.”

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Care Beyond Measure

This collaboration with Virginia Garcia is natural for UWS. The Virginia Garcia mission places a special emphasis on serving those who experience barriers to receiving health care, which aligns with the university motto, “For the good of the patient.”

“Many of the problems I encountered during these events stemmed from years of hard labor and a profound lack of medical care,” says Luke Cobb, UWS DC student, who had a unique interest in the program because his parents also worked harvesting vegetables in the Pacific Northwest when he was young. “By the time we got to work on someone, their problems were more pronounced than they would be in someone who receives regular care, such as an athlete. Without treatment, these issues can—and do—turn into chronic pain for a lot of people.”

Cobb also appreciated the community outreach aspect of the program—serving underrepresented populations is an enhancement to his education at UWS and he was pleased to be able to make a difference for the workers and their families.

“After I volunteered at the first event and saw that Virginia Garcia was accepting donations to distribute. I brought clothes, kids toys and supplies to the second event I attended,” says Cobb. “I was happy to be able to make an additional positive impact in their lives, however small.”

Dr. Kawaoka, or Dr. K as he’s affectionately known, echoes Cobb’s sentiment.

“At UWS, we encourage students to expose themselves to as many patients and treatment options as they can. If you can learn one new thing or refer one patient to get the help they need, then you’ve won,” he says. “There are people in the world who are really hurting, and we can help them. We’re creating doctors who can teach patients how to take care of themselves and get them out of the chronic pain paradigm – and that’s the biggest win of all.”