July 14, 2017

Susan Buckenmaier went to Hawaii for two weeks, but she barely had enough time to spend one day at the beach.

Buckenmaier, 23, a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves and a SPH master’s student in epidemiology, was busy setting up and running a free medical clinic for Kauai island residents. The exercise is part of an annual two-week service mission which brings reserve troops from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Pop-up clinics are set up in many parts of the country, including in Alaska and in Appalachian towns, she said.

“By working together, the Reserves are able to improve the health of vulnerable populations all over the country, with the added bonus of training us,” she said.  

The reservist was in the Army ROTC program at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania before arriving at the University of Maryland.

In Hawaii Buckenmaier and her comrades helped set up a temporary clinic at an elementary school in Eleele, a town on the southern tip of Kauai. Then they helped run the clinic while Medical Corps and Nurse Corps members saw patients. 

The area is identified by the Kauai government’s public health department as an area where island residents struggle to access care for health, tooth and eye issues. Area residents also struggle with issues like obesity, she said.

“In the Hawaii area, Medicaid does not cover dental, so the biggest need in that area was dental care,” she said. “We did a lot of tooth extractions and just basic dental hygiene.”

Glasses were also made on-site for patients. And for some in Eleele the clinic is the only place they can get them affordably, she said.

“So if their glasses break before the next mission, they have to wait,” she said.

Buckenmaier said her experience strengthened her belief in how important regular healthcare and education can be to help people stay healthy.

“It just reinforces the need the country has for public health support and public health connections,” she said.

On campus, Buckenmaier is a graduate assistant at the Veteran Student Life office. The office helps support veterans as they navigate college or make the transition from military to civilian life.

“There are about 1,500 veterans on campus at any given time, and there’s a large population at the School of Public Health,” she said.