TCOM and Amerigroup partner for border wellness medical mission trip

By Steven Bartolotta

TCOM Big Bend Trip

Providing health care to underserved communities is the foundation of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.  

But sometimes, reaching underserved communities takes some traveling, planning and unusual expenditures. To help meet the needs of far west Texas, TCOM and Amerigroup are partnering to offer free medical wellness clinics on Texas-Mexico border Dec. 1-4, 2021.   

Announced as part of the commemoration of National Rural Health Day Nov. 18, Amerigroup has donated funds to offset travel, lodging and meal costs for TCOM students and faculty. In addition to basic health screenings, the students and attending physicians will offer OMT and point-of-care ultrasound imaging.  

Mallory McMahon, OMS-III, has made two of the previous border wellness mission trips during her TCOM career, and is eager to return.  

“These trips are the highlight of my year,” said McMahon. “School can be extremely stressful so these trips help remind us why we work so hard. I am so lucky to be able to serve these communities for the third time. The most memorable part of these trips is the feeling of helping someone in need and of knowing you made a positive improvement in someone’s life, whether it be diagnosing the cause of their pain, educating them on chronic disease, or just spending the afternoon chatting with a patient that needs some company.” 

For McMahon, growing up just two miles from downtown Austin, rural health seems an unlikely passion but while attending undergraduate studies at the University of Oklahoma, she came face-to-face with the plight of rural patients. During her clinical experiences, she met a veteran who was forced to travel four hours roundtrip, twice a week, to receive treatment from his oncologist. 

This harsh reality prompted McMahon to set a course to overcome healthcare disparities when she completes her medical training.  

“It was extremely frustrating to hear the emotional and financial stresses caused by the lack of access to healthcare,” said McMahon. “The shortage of healthcare providers in rural areas is heartbreaking because these communities have such a rich history and are such hard workers; they are the backbone of our state and deserve the highest quality of care. There is absolutely no reason the people who supply the oil, natural gas, crops and cattle for our economy should have to travel hundreds of miles for basic healthcare.” 

Faculty members from TCOM will provide supervision and oversight at the clinical locations.  One of them is Dr. Lesca Hadley, who is making her fourth trip to the border and loves the small-town feel the students will get to experience.  

“Watching TCOM students provide Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Treatments on an OMT table outdoors in a dusty churchyard in a small border town is one of my distinct memories,” said Dr. Hadley. “The beauty of west Texas is striking. Most of the students on these trips have never traveled through west Texas. I enjoy watching the students’ reactions to recognizing this beauty. On our last trip we stopped after a long day of clinic on the plain where the Marfa lights are legendary, and the students were completely amazed at the vast number of stars – which are impossible to see in the city.”  

Future rural physicians such as McMahon not only get to bring health care access to underserved communities, but also gain valuable experience by sharpening their bedside manner and practicing hands on.   

“The communities are extremely welcoming and are instrumental in helping us get the word out about our clinics,” said McMahon. “Patients are generally very grateful for the care offered through the clinics and are very welcome to helping us learn and grow as students.” 

The experience is a reminder that serving others is a big reason as to why they choose to practice medicine. 

“I love to see the smiles spread across the faces of the students as they learn how to integrate what they already know into a real clinical environment, helping patients in need of care,” said Dr. Hadley. “I love to see the joy on the faces of students when they have worked all day helping people they have never known.” 

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