Sonography is flush with technology and equipment advancement, increasing productivity demands, and essential clinical findings. These important aspects sometimes obscure another strength of sonography: the giving nature of sonographers, who help each other, serve patients, and support clinical teams.
International medical missions give sonographers a new lens through which to view their busy careers, and it is a view that is generous with appreciation and joyful, welcoming hugs. Just ask Karen Klimas, MS, RT(R), RDMS.
Students Teach the Teacher
“I was a staff sonographer for a long time, and I’ve been here for 20 years. Like anything you do, you can feel burnout from time to time,” Karen says. “Here” is Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, where Karen is clinical coordinator and an assistant professor in the diagnostic medical sonography program.
She has taught throngs of students important lessons to assist in their bright futures. Then, two former students taught her something that brightened her life in return.
“Two of our graduates had gone to the Dominican Republic on medical mission trips organized by the Order of Malta,” a religious initiative that provides medical, social, and humanitarian care in 120 countries worldwide, with an emphasis on supporting the dignity and survival needs of forgotten or excluded people, including refugees of war.
“I was very interested in the twice-yearly medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic that they described. I had a yearning for what I felt would be a life-changing experience,” says Karen. “It was a great opportunity. I had never done anything like that before, you know, to help. I went and I loved it.”
SDMS International Assistance Grant Recipient
Karen traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2018 and 2019; in 2019, she received the SDMS Foundation International Assistance grant to help offset her expenses. She returned with the team in 2023, her third medical mission. Each time, she has taken students with her; in 2023, she was joined by Misericordia seniors Kali Foltz and 2023 SDMS Foundation International Assistance grant recipient Julie Myers.
A highlight of the trips is an outpouring of appreciation from the Dominican community and the medical missionaries. “Everyone that volunteered was so welcoming,” says Karen. The first time she went, she didn’t know anyone, but “it was like I had known them forever. Everybody lifted everybody else up,” she recalls.
A cardiologist who spearheads the trips is a symbol of the spirit. “Dr. Centurion will give you a big hug and let you know how much he appreciates you and values your opinion. He invited me to do echos. I had a hot minute of training years ago. I remembered the views and gave it a try, with his help.” On this third trip, she enjoyed observing similar spirit-boosting physician interaction involving Julie and Kali.
Bridging to the Next Generation
“Our last night in the Dominican Republic, the community hosted a party of appreciation, with music, dancing, and food. It was nice to see Kali and Julie dancing and having a good time. They were mingling and talking with people outside their age category,” says Karen. “It can be hard for students to take that step. They don’t know where they sit in the clinical setting as a student and at first after they’ve graduated.”
Students, if they hang back, can be misunderstood sometimes. Karen says she has seen it repeatedly. “They don’t want to get in the way when they are in their clinical setting. They don’t want to step out of turn,” she explains. A medical mission trip like this one, particularly with cardiologists eager to work with the students, can accelerate the process for the students to feel at home among the other clinicians.
Give a Lesson, Learn a Lesson
Another acculturation to professional practice Karen was able to gently share with her students also came with a lesson she was able to learn from them.
“The organizers were willing to close down the clinic at lunchtime so we could all get nourishment and a break. But there were still patients there. Some had come from hours away or had been waiting a long time. I am from the generation that always had a relentless work ethic, working until the work was done, and sacrificing personally.
“I stayed and I gave them a choice,” Karen says. The students took the break. Karen took notice of a positive message. “I didn’t think it was a bad thing. With social media today, you see more about self-care. At the university, our team is very much about self-care. I commend them for that. I can’t be good if I’m not feeling good. I hope they keep a nice balance of self-care, while understanding, also, how far the patients have come and how long they have been waiting.”
Personal Rewards Abound
“I come back from these trips and feel reenergized. I see how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and to have food. I feel the appreciation of the other healthcare professionals and of the patients,” says Karen.
“As sonographers, we’re helping people every day. But trips like these are really special,” she says.