Helping Hands and Hands-on Learning in Costa Rica

Sara Kampsen '25 in Costa Rica with the Vida Volunteer Program

A group of Concordia students spent five days in Costa Rica with the Vida Volunteer program this summer, treating patients and working hands-on with doctors. The program travels year-round to different areas in Guatemala and Costa Rica, setting up clinics that provide free medical care to those without insurance.

Students across the country studying pre-medical fields, including pre-dental and pre-veterinary, get the opportunity to work with Vida to gain experience helping patients outside of the classroom. This not only benefits the communities who need the care but the students as well because they can work alongside medical professionals and learn from their insight. The students assist in coming up with diagnoses and treatments, but ultimately the doctors make the final call and can explain their processes to the students who can learn from their point of view.

Sara Kampsen ‘25 from Sauk Centre, Minn., is majoring in biology with minors in chemistry and Spanish and is on the pre-PA (physician assistant) track. Kampsen says they were seeing about 50 patients a day. She describes the experience as eye-opening because they could put their skills into practice before doctors walked them through the process firsthand. Students also receive feedback from the doctors, giving them a good opportunity to grow.

“It was very validating to work through these cases,” Kampsen says. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Kampsen says she appreciates the opportunity to work with patients in contrast to learning in a classroom. She explains that a lot of the students love the science and problem-solving aspects of the job, but actually working with patients and providing care affirms their passion for healthcare.

In addition to the opportunity to practice her medical knowledge, Kampsen was able to apply her Spanish minor.

“This was the first time I actually had to use [Spanish] in a real-life scenario,” Kampsen says. “Speaking to a native Spanish speaker versus in the classroom is very different.”

The students on the volunteer trip did homestays, so they were able to meet families and interact with the communities they were helping. Kampsen expresses that a highlight of the trip was getting to know classmates outside of the classroom as well as meeting many people and becoming familiar with a different culture. Kampsen says that a memorable moment was when a group of kids from the community performed a dance for the doctors and pre-med students as a thank you for making a difference in their community.

“They were so, so thankful and the kindest people ever,” she says about the patients they were seeing. “A lot of them had more acute issues, so we were able to give them pain meds or give them antibiotics, and it’s free.”

If given the opportunity, Kampsen says she would go on another trip through the Vida Volunteer program. After seeing the impact firsthand, she recommends the experience to anyone studying medicine.

Photo (names in alphabetical order): Reese Anderson, Hunter Colby, Elizabeth Fedorchak, Madeline Guler, MaLaney Huhner, Karissa Jones, Sara Kampsen, Ava Kiemele, Joshua Kolling, Landry Maragos, Sierra Ramberg, Peyton Selle, Connor Sturges, Christian Thingvold, Ethan Tong, Faith Weibye

Written by Tierney Jo Stewart ’24