By Wendy Sarubbi | December 2, 2011 2:44 pm

Medical students from across Florida were inspired to care for patients across the world at the UCF College of Medicine’s recent Inaugural Global Health Conference.

“Even though you are in medical school busting your butt and studying all the time, you still have time to serve,” said Dr. Tania Velez, a second-year family medicine resident at Florida Hospital who has participated in medical mission work in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Thailand and Panama. She urged M.D. students to follow the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

The event was sponsored by the College of Medicine’s Global Health initiative and MedPACT (Medical Students Providing Across Continents). The groups are dedicated to the idea that the study of global health issues and participation in international medical experiences provide medical, cultural and service learning opportunities for students and faculty members.

A goal of the conference was to identify ways to make international medical efforts sustainable after medical students and faculty members have left areas that are impoverished, face natural disasters like floods and drought, and lack even basic medical care. “In these rural communities, you are the clinic,” Dr. Velez explained.

Dr. Eloise Harman, professor of medicine at the University of Florida, has seen the scarcity of care across the globe. She has led medical trips to Haiti since 1996 and described the challenges of bringing health care to orphanages and other areas of that impoverished country. In some orphanages the only medical supplies were two bottles of rubbing alcohol and half the children must leave the area every day to search for water.

Physicians at the conference described how international service shows medical students a different side of health care, including diseases and conditions they would never see in the United States. As an example, UCF medical student Christina Hsu explained how her mentor, a physician from Kenya, reported that the two most common health issues for patients there are hippo and monkey bites.

UCF’s contingent included students from all three classes who are working with Dr. Judith Simms-Cendan, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of international health programs. Dr. Simms-Cendan said sustainability and “issues of cultural competency, finances and working directly with leadership in the local communities” are key in ensuring the success of international programs.

As an exercise in sustainability, M-3 student Steven Bright created a simulation exercise where students had to develop a sustainable health care program for an imaginary country in Central America. Participants had to show teamwork and international communications skills to develop strategies for addressing health issues such as tropical disease and sanitation.

Dr. Deborah German, vice president of medical affairs, and dean of the UCF College of Medicine welcomed the participants, explaining that the inaugural global health event was another new tradition at the young medical school. She explained that global interests have been a foundation of the medical school since its beginning as medical city becomes a global health care destination. “This really is one world,” Dr. German said, “whether you’re taking care of patients or building medical cities. If we care about the health of one, we must care about the health of all.”

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