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Learning abroad, serving at home

PA student’s experience abroad helps her better serve her local community.

For more information on Learning Abroad programs, visit or come by the Fall Learning Abroad Fair on Wednesday, Oct. 17 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Union Ballroom.

This summer, Learning Abroad’s Social Media Scholarship recipient and physician assistant student Nicole King, participated in the Thailand International Elective: Health Sciences program. In Thailand, King was exposed to urban and rural Thailand and learned first-hand about public health issues, clinical work, and the culture and history of both Thailand and Burmese refugees. In addition to her career development and research opportunities while abroad, King participated in several cultural and professional excursions. King had this to say about her time in Thailand:

“In Thailand, we visited Mae Sot, a rural area near the Thailand-Myanmar border that was home to several Burmese refugees. We had the opportunity to rotate through their free clinic and work closely with the medics, who are equivalents of PAs in that region. It was interesting to find that they had such limited resources out there—we had to learn to work with what we had available.

I also got to see how different the living conditions were of these Burmese families compared to those in Bangkok. I felt like I was in another country (Myanmar specifically), despite still actually being in Thailand. Many people walked around barefoot with slightly disheveled clothing. Women and young girls wore “thanaka,” a yellow-white facial paste made from ground bark used for cosmetic and sun protection purposes. This experience being in rural Thailand was definitely a good way to witness the differences in their community compared to what I am used to in the U.S., and it taught me to be more aware of such unique lifestyles elsewhere in the world.

Although I have always felt to be culturally sensitive, I’ve become even more tuned in with the struggles of underserved populations in Utah. After realizing our limited resources in Mae Sot, I’ve wanted to take advantage of what we do have in the U.S. to benefit our patients. For example, I volunteered at CARE Fair earlier this week, an event that provides free health screenings for uninsured patients who do not have a primary care provider. Many of them had been dealing with chronic medical conditions that obviously have been poorly monitored. Thus, I referred the majority of my patients to get established with free primary care. I’ve been grateful of the resources we do have here to help them.

Thailand exposed me to underserved communities who don’t have reasonable access to health resources. My goal is to continue reaching out to these populations as a physician assistant in the near future. I want to embody my program’s mission by continuously lending a hand to those who need health care, even if I am just one person.”

Faculty-led programs like King’s are an invaluable way for students to gain firsthand experience, network with professionals in their field, and build their resume while earning University of Utah credit.

For more information on Learning Abroad programs, visit or come by the Fall Learning Abroad Fair on Wednesday, Oct, 17 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Union Ballroom.