University of Miami nursing and medical students just returned from Haiti where they delivered healthcare to hundreds of the poorest people in the western hemisphere – months after a series of hurricanes and floods devastated the island.
Last month, 20 nursing, medical and surgical students administered immunizations, performed house visits, screen tests and assisted volunteer doctors in cleft lip and palette surgeries through Project Medishare, a nonprofit organization that has partnered with UM’s Miller School of Medicine.
“What drew me to Haiti was the need,’’ said Kenneth Fan, a second year medical student who made the trip. “It’s the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Not only is it a country that has a need, but its one of the most overlooked countries.”
Only a 90-minute flight from Miami, many Haitians lack health care and suffer from diseases that are easily treatable with proper resources found in this country.
“It’s amazing to me how in a two-hour plane ride the scene is so drastic,’’ Fan said. “So much work can be done so close.”
The work may be more important than ever. The combination of hurricanes and tropical storms – Fay, Gustav, Hannah and Ike – over a period of four months displaced 150,000 people, destroyed homes, factories and food crops, leaving people on the brink of starvation. Contaminated river water, which is the only water available to the poorest there, and a lack of a proper sewage, compound the problem.
When the students got there in December and January, Medishare staff prepared them for what they were about to encounter.
“It’s a cultural shock for students,” said Gabriel Denis, UM’s project coordinator for Medishare. “A lot of students are not used to the poor conditions and the setting.”
Making the trip has changed Fan’s perception of Haiti, a country which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
“My view of Haiti has changed 180 degrees,’’ Fan said. “Initially you see all these things on the news, you see CNN and they seem like they are having a riot every day. But the countryside is amazing, untouched land with a couple houses every three miles and the people are so friendly. They understand you’re there to help them. When you give the exams and shots, they never complain.”
Although students must raise their own funds to cover travel expenses, the number of students participating has increased over the years.
“Students are hearing about it and the buzz is out there,” said Ellen Powers, executive director for Project Medishare. “Students have said that through Project Medishare, they feel like they are part of something bigger.”
Jessica Springfield, a nursing school senior who has worked with the Peace Corps said she would consider traveling with Project Medishare.
“It just sounds like a great, worldly experience and a great opportunity for underserved populations to benefit from the expertise of the medical professionals of the future,” she said.
Fan plans to continue working with the organization, responding to an echoing call that has also lured doctors to return to the island.
“When you have students that volunteer through the years, and when they become residents and well-paid doctors, they come back to the root and that’s the most important and exciting part for me,” Powers said.
For information on how to participate in Project Medishare, contact a student representative at firstname.lastname@example.org.