MOULTRIE – A group of seven PCOM South Georgia doctor of osteopathic medicine students have returned after serving on a two-week medical mission trip in Cambodia.
Seven students, from the PCOM South Georgia Class of 2026, traveled on the international trip including Krupesh G. Patel, of Valdosta; Tiffany Pittman, of Stockbridge; Grace Perry, of Hahira; Pathya Kunthy, of Conyers, Ga. and Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Emma High, of Saint Simons Island; Alexander Studebaker of Conyers and Tyler Key of Moultrie. Studebaker’s wife, Molly Studebaker, herself a University of Georgia PharmD program student, also traveled with the group.
The students were searching for a medical mission trip program to attend for the summer, but when they failed to find one to meet their limited scheduling, they decided to organize their own. The students had just completed their first year of studies at the PCOM South Georgia campus and were hoping to gain first-hand experience with rural medicine.
Kunthy suggested the group travel to Cambodia, so his parents, who are also doctors, could assist with finding hospitals they could tour and shadow local staff.
The students participated in medical internships in three hospitals including Khmer-Society Friendship Hospital, a public hospital that was built in the 1960s; Cambodia-China Friendship Preah Kossamak Hospital, a more recently opened public hospital; and a private hospital that opened in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a good rural experience. Given that we’re here at PCOM South Georgia, we’re here to study rural medicine and be a part of rural medicine. I thought it’d be a good idea to explore Cambodia as a rural country, and then also from a public health perspective to see what healthcare is like,” Kunthy said in an interview July 17.
Attending the trip gave the group a newfound appreciation of what South Georgia’s rural healthcare system provides.
Kunthy said what local community members think is inadequate in rural South Georgia is generally more than what Cambodia’s healthcare system has. Although Cambodia might lack available resources, they’re able to provide care and complete procedures without all the technology and equipment.
Another important aspect of the trip was to view multiple areas of the country in addition to the hospital tours. While driving through one town, the students viewed a local merchant care facility that also served as the nearest hospital on a remote island.
It really gave a feel for how people live and what their access to healthcare is, High said.
The students saw immediate differences in Cambodia’s healthcare system at the facilities.
“Seeing the passion for medicine was really unique. Every physician we talked to or even P.K’s aunt who’s a midwife, were so excited that we were there and to share their hospital and their experience with us. You could feel how excited and passionate the people were to have us there to talk about their facility and to tell us the cool unique things that they were doing with limited resources. So to be able to see that excitement, which I feel like is frequently lost in U.S. healthcare, was unique,” High explained.
Patel noticed that many of the resources like personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, scrubs and medical shoe covers are disposable in the United States healthcare field. In countries like Cambodia, they have to repeatedly clean, sterilize and reuse those resources.
“One thing I took away is how much they’re able to adapt. That’s really what medicine is about. You’re adapting to everything that’s changing consistently,” she said.
The patients’ rooms in the older public hospital were accessible from the exterior of the hospital. It was common for multiple patients, up to four or six, to be stationed to a single room without any privacy curtains, and air-conditioning was only available by request or in “VIP” rooms.
The students were also able to view several surgical procedures and health facilities.
As expected, there were some language barriers. The medical terms in the United States are mainly Latin based while the medical terms in Cambodia are French based. Some of the facilities continue to record patients’ charts in a paper system.
They noticed that specialty buildings where payment was required at time of service were more updated while buildings that were publicly funded were outdated. Some areas within the facilities even displayed the cost of each medical service on large boards.
While viewing a Caesarian section at a rural hospital, a doctor noted that they did not have a cautery, which is a medical instrument used to reduce or stop bleeding during surgery.
“[The doctor] said, so you just make do what you have. He changed and adapted his surgical techniques for the best prognosis for the patient and the child with the limited resources,” Kunthy explained.
Being able to speak and learn from different physicians on the international trip is already benefiting the students as they enter their second year of studies. The students are studying general anesthesia upon returning to Moultrie and were able to apply what they learned in class to their previous shadowing experience with a patient.
The students hope to make this as a permanent travel option at the PCOM South Georgia campus.
Source: Moultrie Observer