The heat and humidity were oppressive and the smell of car fumes mingled with food stalls and garbage as buses carrying UCF medical and nursing faculty and students wound through the narrow downtown streets of San Francisco De Macoris in the northern Dominican Republic.
Anticipation was high as the group reached an elementary school that would serve as the day’s makeshift clinic for a rural village 30 minutes from the city. College of Medicine faculty member Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan was leading the 49-person medical mission team July 23-31, the fourth trip she has made to the same village as director of the college’s Global Health initiatives.
This year’s team was the largest to date and included UCF medical, nursing and engineering students, University of Florida pharmacy students, their faculty, community dentists and doctors and a chaplain. During their eight days, the team cared for 864 patients, 300 more than last year, in six impoverished communities with virtually no healthcare services. And they worked interprofessionally, bringing to life the team approach to care that Dr. Simms-Cendan and others lead at the medical school.
“We have learners at different levels, fourth years (students) teaching second years, faculty from various backgrounds and community practitioners to help our students see and learn on their feet and see the relevance of what they’ve learned in the classroom,” said Dr. Simms-Cendan.
The classrooms-turned clinic were dark and sparsely furnished so the team brought in their own generator to ensure constant electricity for light, dental compressors and the Ipads they used for completing electronic health records. The goal is track patients, assess their progress year-after-year and keep records of medications so future visiting medical teams know the patients’ medical history.
Second-year medical student and trip coordinator Camille Carre led the day’s activities by organizing teams of interprofessional students and faculty who rotated through the different medical areas including triage, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN, dental, patient education and pharmacy.
More than 100 people were already waiting to be seen when the medical team arrived the first day. Their complaints ran from aches and pains to diabetes and parasites. “There’s nothing like this trip to truly open your eyes to the medical needs here,” said Carre.
Fourth-year medical student Neesha Patel who was on her second DR trip, teamed with younger students as they triaged and assessed patients. “It’s wonderful to see how the trip has grown in two years,” she said.
One of the new areas this year was dental care, provided by five Sarasota dentists who performed procedures from cleanings to extractions. As she helped patients and taught students, dentist Dr. Janet Alberti-Bailey explained how poor diet and high sugar consumption were impacting residents’ teeth. One of the first procedures of the day was a tooth extraction performed by oral surgeon Dr. Scott Middleton while students watched and learned. The interprofessional aspect of the learning and teaching is something Dr. Simms-Cendan stresses. “We have medical and nursing students enjoying the opportunity to see dental care. It’s anatomy and surgery which they wouldn’t ordinarily get exposed to and would never happen unless it’s on a trip like this.”
Among the community physicians who volunteered were Dr. David Simmons, an internist, and his wife, Chaplain Linda Simmons, who offered pastoral counseling. “The Dominican people are very spiritual,” said Dr. Simms-Cendan. “They don’t always have people to discuss their problems with and often it’s easier to talk to a stranger than to a family member about personal problems.”
While the medical team cared for patients, five UCF engineering students from Engineers Without Borders and their faculty advisor, Jesse Berdis from NASA, met with local leaders about the village’s biggest infrastructure need – a bridge to cross the river that runs through the community. When waters are high, the river isolates residents and is treacherous to cross. During their visits, the engineers surveyed the land and took soil samples to gage the stability of the rocky soil bed for future construction.
“It’s amazing that in a few years, this community will have a bridge,” said UCF engineering student Becca Shea. The team analyzed the area to design the best type of bridge that will be cost-effective to build and easy to maintain.
As the week progressed, the healthcare students grew more confident in working together, using their medical Spanish and providing care even with limited space, equipment and drugs. “I got valuable practice taking histories and giving advice,” said second-year student Daniel Stehli, “I got to diagnose a woman with diabetes and truly helped her start to turn her health around. It doesn’t get more real than that.”
The students fundraised for the trip months in advance and collected donated supplies and medications. The Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation– a long-time supporter of the medical mission trip donated $10,000 to fund travel scholarships for the medical students to encourage and support volunteer medical initiatives to help the underserved.
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