Doctor in the making

Natalie+Reathaford%2C+sophomore%2C+went+on+a+medical+mission+trip+to+San+Jose%2C+Costa+Rica+over+the+summer.

Kaitlyn Glasgow

Natalie Reathaford, sophomore, went on a medical mission trip to San Jose, Costa Rica over the summer.

By Khadija Khan, Kirkwood High School

Natalie Reathaford couldn’t have felt more at home stepping inside the medical clinic surrounded by the hum of machines and overlapping conversations in Spanish. That’s because Reathaford, sophomore, spent part of her summer in Costa Rica on a medical mission trip where she was able to learn about medicine and how to treat patients.

“Flying [to] Costa Rica was definitely my favorite moment of the summer,” Reathaford said. “Being dropped off at the airport and having to figure it out on my own was really cool.”

Reathaford signed up for the trip through a program called Travel For Teens. She arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica July 9, and spent a total of 11 days there.

“[Before we could treat patients] we had to go through rounds of [training],” Reathaford said. “Some of us worked in the pharmacy to organize and get medicines ready for the patients, [and others] worked on [measuring] vitals, like blood pressure and heart rate.”

I have access to clean water anywhere I go in the U.S., so it’s crazy to think that other places don’t.”

— Natalie Reathaford

Reathaford said many areas did not have access to clean water. This led her and the rest of the volunteers to carry out a water purification project.

“We boiled water since it was the easiest way to make it healthier to drink,” Reathaford said. “[The experience] was life-changing. I knew how privileged I was to live in the U.S., but getting to see the differences right in front of my eyes [has] changed my view a lot. I have access to clean water anywhere I go in the U.S., so it’s crazy to think that other places don’t.”

Many of the patients who visited the clinic typically did not have enough money or health insurance to cover medical expenses. The clinic helped by providing them with free services.

“There was a patient [who] was having [breast pain], but she couldn’t get a mammogram because she was using all her money on her children who had disabilities,” Reathaford said. “When she came to the clinic, we gave her a [document] that would allow her to get a mammogram for free.”

Reathaford also assisted adults with Down syndrome. She and the other volunteers spent the day keeping them entertained with fun activities.

“We went to [a] place called Casa Club, [where] adults with Down syndrome would hang out, and we would perform skits and color with them,” Reathaford said. “We spent the day talking about good manners and demonstrating them. I was paired up with a lady who was very kind and she loved getting the chance to learn English while I spoke Spanish to teach her. It felt great knowing that I got to make a difference.”

It felt great knowing that I got to make a difference.”

— Natalie Reathaford

Students all over the country who signed up on the website took part in the program. Despite not having met any of the volunteers before the trip, Reathaford was able to become close with many of them.

“Everyone there was super kind and helped each other [out],” Reathaford said. “It felt like a family. I made a lot of good friends and we still keep in touch. We are hoping to do another trip next year.”

Reathaford didn’t only go on the trip to learn new things about medicine, but to apply the Spanish language she has been learning at KHS. She was able to interact with patients in Spanish.

“So many people only speak Spanish there, so having conversations with them about medicine felt really good,” Reathaford said. “I’ve always wanted to take what I’ve learned in school, like Spanish, and [use] it in a different country [to] immerse myself into the other cultures around me. Getting to do that, as well as learn about medicine and shadow a doctor, was definitely one of the coolest opportunities.”

Getting to do that, as well as learn about medicine and shadow a doctor, was definitely one of the coolest opportunities.”

— Natalie Reathaford

Reathaford hopes to be a neurosurgeon. She wants to go into medicine like her father, Shawn Reathaford, who works as a pediatric hospitalist.

“In an indirect way, I think [Natalie] probably was [inspired by me to go into medicine],” Shawn said. “[She would] hear the stories that I would tell when I came home from the office or the hospital.”

Her mom, Dawnita Reathaford, is supportive and believes her daughter should do what makes her happy. She thinks medicine is the perfect field for her.

“My hope for Natalie is that she finds something that she loves to do that uses her talents,” Dawnita said. “If medicine is that, then she should go for it.”

This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on August 22, 2022.