College of Osteopathic Medicine student Claudia Guerrero Diaz holding a baby


A Life-changing Service Trip to the Dominican Republic

April 9, 2024

Pictured: NYITCOM student Claudia Guerrero Diaz visits children at the House of Light orphanage in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Physicians often recall the moment they realized that the decision to pursue a rigorous medical education was well worth it. For one future physician, that experience has come not once, but twice, in a country more than 1,500 miles away.

In the summer of 2023, then-first-year medical student Claudia Guerrero Diaz joined other students and professors from the College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) on a Center for Global Health service trip to the Dominican Republic. When she returned home, she was a new person. After the eye-opening experience of working alongside physicians in some of the Caribbean nation’s most medically underserved communities, she was eager to go back and continue their work.

This March, an energized Guerrero Diaz organized a spring break service trip that brought 16 students and three faculty members to the Dominican Republic. Under the supervision of NYITCOM Chair of Clinical Specialties Thomas Chan, D.O., Associate Professor Carl Abraham, M.D., Assistant Professor Isabela Romao, M.D., and local Dominican physician Griselda Cecilia Lugo, M.D., Guerrero Diaz and her peers rolled up their sleeves and got to work. From collecting patient histories and conducting blood pressure screenings to managing medication distribution and performing other critical activities, the NYITCOM students brought accessible care to those in need.

Guerrero Diaz was recently awarded the NYITCOM Student Government Association’s Initiative Award for organizing the trip. Now, she reflects on how the experience has helped to prepare her for a future career in medicine.

In the hot summer of 2023, I found myself in the Dominican Republic, eager to start a global health trip with the nonprofit organization Foundation for Peace (FFP). Little did I know that my decision to travel with the Center for Global Health and its partner organization, FFP, would soon prove to have a profound impact on my life.

One evening, after a long day of traveling and several hours of packing medicines, the group gathered for our nightly reflections. It was then that FFP leader Dr. Lugo, the esteemed Dominican physician guiding our trip, shared words that would resonate deeply within me.

“At the end of this trip,” she said with her voice carrying the weight of experience, “you will leave a part of your heart here.”

Later, I’d learn that this was a huge understatement; her words became the bedrock of my trip.

My heart, in its entirety, found a profound sense of belonging in the vibrant Dominican culture. The lively spirit and welcoming nature of Dominicans reminded me of my beloved Venezuela, my homeland, though now a distant memory that remains out of reach.

It was this profound bond that compelled me to organize the spring 2024 global health trip, marking my return to the Dominican Republic.


Diaz (center back row) and members of the NYITCOM/FFP group provided care to patients at a local church.

Upon returning, I was greeted by familiar faces and open arms by the foundation’s staff members, who shared my excitement. This time, I brought 16 students and three doctors with me, ready to lead our team through a life-changing experience. As I reminded everyone before takeoff in New York, this was not going to be your typical spring break vacation; in reality, it was anything but a vacation.

We began working as soon as we arrived, spending hours preparing the medicines for distribution the following day. Our days were consumed by clinic duties and patient care. Over eight days, we provided medical care to over 300 patients, occasionally having time to treat them with osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). We also delved into the workings of the Dominican Republic healthcare system and visited the House of Light, an orphanage catering to children with special needs. Here, we witnessed firsthand the power of passion and dedication in surpassing any resource limitations. This humbling experience served to realign our perspectives on life.

Compared to last year’s trip, we had a mix of first- and second-year students. For the second-year medical students, it was an opportunity to apply what we had learned and develop cultural competency for future interactions with Latino patients during clinical rotations.

For the first-years, it was a chance to gain invaluable clinical experience and practice physical exam skills. Everyone had the opportunity to engage with knowledgeable NYITCOM faculty members, with expertise ranging from infectious disease to pediatrics and endocrinology. The insight that Dr. Abraham, Dr. Chan, and Dr. Romao were able to share with us—in real-time as we helped treat real patients—was rewarding for all involved.

But, as any good physician knows, patient success not only requires skill and medical comprehension, it also requires a great deal of collaboration among members of the care team—and our group had that in spades.


Diaz and her fellow NYITCOM students bonded with one another and faculty while exploring and taking in the local culture of Santo Domingo.

Throughout our journey, we all grew remarkably close. We shared meals, laughter, and moments of vulnerability. We even cried together, with tears and emotions rolling freely as we exchanged stories about the people we met that day, passing napkins across the room in silent understanding.

I strongly encourage medical students to participate in one of the Center for Global Health’s trips at least once; anyone who embarks on this journey will not be the same person when they return home. It’s a humbling experience that will mold them into better, more compassionate physicians.

And now, having gone on the trip for a second time, I’m determined to return for a third. As I reflect on the immense impact that both experiences have had on me, I find myself eagerly anticipating the opportunity to return in the spring of 2025.