Bringing Spine Care to the Under Served in the Dominican Republic: The Volunteer Experience

This month, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Alan Bertolero DC, who is currently serving as one of the Clinical Supervisors at the World Spine Care Clinic in Moca, Dominican Republic, where low back pain is the 2nd leading cause of disability after headache disorders.[1]

The Moca Clinic is located in a rehabilitation center run by the Patronato Cibao de Rehabilitación. It is located on the site of the public hospital in Moca. The project is a collaboration between the Patronato Cibao de Rehabilitación, the Fundación Sol Naciente, local government and the Ministry of Higher Education (supporting the scholarship recipients) in the Dominican Republic, and World Spine Care.

Alan sat down with Stefanie Ince, Executive Director, to share some of his thoughts on his work in Moca.

SI: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Alan! First of all – What inspired you to take on the role of Clinical Supervisor at the WSC Moca Clinic in the Dominican Republic? 

Image of Alan Bertolero treating a patient in the Dominican Republic

AB: As I was getting close to graduation from my chiropractic program, I was looking to do something with my new abilities that could be more far-reaching and profound. I found out about World Spine Care while listening to Dr. Dean Smith’s Chiropractic Science Podcast, and I saw that the organization’s mission and vision was directly in line with the kind of experience I was hoping for. I knew that if I stayed and worked as a chiropractor locally, I would probably touch thousands of lives throughout my career, but by working as a Volunteer with World Spine Care, I had the chance to be a part of something that would be positively affecting an entire country of over 10 million people.

SI: What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your role as Clinical Supervisor?

AB: Patience. Patience. And more patience. Things often do not go as planned, people do not follow through, and things just take significantly longer here than I am used to. This has taught me something important that I did not expect. Where I am from, everyone is in a rush and we start to get angry if things take five minutes longer than they should. Being impatient does absolutely nothing, but make you angry. Take a breath, relax, and be comfortable waiting. It would serve everyone to gain this skill.

By working as a Volunteer with World Spine Care, I had the chance to be a part of something that would be positively affecting an entire country of over 10 million people.

SI: How has this experience of volunteering for World Spine Care changed you?

AB: Being away from my family and friends in the comfort of where I grew up has caused me to be more independent and has built confidence in myself. “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable” as my college basketball coach used to say. With that being said, we do have friends of World Spine Care here in Moca that help ease the transition, along with everyone at World Spine Care who do their best to help out the volunteers. With this experience, I know that by the time I come back to the U.S., I will have built up the confidence and skills necessary to get things done efficiently and effectively.

SI: If you could describe working for World Spine Care in the DR in one word, what would it be and why?

Selflessness. I am constantly amazed at the number of selfless people that work for World Spine Care who simply want to decrease the burden of spine pain around the world. There is no big payout or a huge amount of fame attached to this type of work, and the amount of work and effort that is put into it is no easy task, but everyone does their job effectively and with a positive, contagious attitude.

SI: How are patients suffering with spine pain different in the Dominican Republic than in other areas where you have worked?

AB: For people with spine pain in the Dominican Republic, going to a manual therapist often does not even enter their minds as a possibility due to it not being available –  or because of a lack of knowledge of this type of treatment.  Although the cases that I have seen here are more or less the same as where I am from in the United States, the treatment they have received is different.  Often patients don’t feel that they have the ability to take their health into their own hands and instead rely on a medical doctor to take care of their pain.

View of Samaná, Dominican Republic

I have treated a lot more patients with prior surgeries and/or more conditions that have progressed further than where I am from. As soon as we give them confidence and promote self-efficacy, I see that they want to actively be a part of their own healing. I have less trouble getting people to do their home care exercises here because they are excited to be a part of the healing process. It’s really good to see that we can make a real difference in patients’ lives.

On behalf of all of us at World Spine Care, and the thousands of patients being helped in the Moca Clinic, thank you for the work you do Alan!

To learn more about getting involved with World Spine Care, visit our Take Action page.

[1] http://www.healthdata.org/dominican-republic

Photos Courtesy Alan Bertolero, DC

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