By Wendy Sarubbi | August 19, 2013 4:54 pm

UCF medical and nursing students and faculty members cared for 876 Dominican Republic residents in just six days and returned home in August with important lessons in interprofessional teamwork, service, cultural literacy and setting up a clinic in an impoverished area far from the comforts and medical technologies of modern life.

“Coming to the Dominican Republic gives students an opportunity to really learn and practice clinical care while serving people who are patient, kind and grateful,” said Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, director of international health programs, and faculty advisor to MedPACt, the global health interest  medical student interest group that organizes the trip. This year’s trip leaders included Wendy Carcamo, Eric Jorge and Neesha Patel.

The UCF healthcare team included 20 medical students (16 rising second-year students and four rising fourth-year students), four rising four-year nursing students, a student in computer science and a premed student. They worked with medical students from Universidad Catolica Nordestana — the medical school in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic that works in partnership with the UCF College of Medicine.

The interprofessional approach to medical education provided an opportunity for all the students to learn medical teamwork and how to set up a clinic from the ground up and begin seeing patients in just 30 minutes. By working together, the medical and nursing students also learned to set up and run a pharmacy, provide patient education on subjects including hygiene and first aid, and practice their Spanish language skills. Dr. Simms-Cendan said the nursing students taught the M.D. students about patient flow, cleanliness and sanitation. The medical students taught the nursing students about epidemiology, pathology and other basic science information about the conditions they saw.

“We said throughout the trip how we all brought unique skills to the table,” she said.

The clinics were located in elementary schools in rural communities of the Dominican Republic. And students saw the impact of poverty on health – patients suffering from severe intestinal conditions because of unclean drinking water and food, and untreated cuts and scrapes that became infected and in need of serious care.  Primary care including treatment of hypertension, diabetes and dermatologic conditions was provided. The dedicated pediatrics team cared for issues of nutrition, ear infections, and asthma. The team also faced many psychosocial effects of poverty. For example, domestic violence is another serious problem in the Dominican Republic, which lacks shelters or other resources for women.

Partners in both the Dominican Republic and Central Florida contribute to the success of the Dominican Republic trip. To help the area, the Rotary Club of La Joya has installed working toilets in communities over the past year, which has greatly improved hygiene and living conditions.  They are very interested in partnering with our team next year for even more community education. Clean The World, a non-profit Orlando organization that recycles soaps and shampoo from local hotels, provided 400 hygiene packages for patients with financial assistance from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation. Diebel Legacy Fund at Central Florida Foundation provided financial aid for the medical students, paying for much of their airfare.

Faculty members included volunteer College of Medicine faculty Dr. Rafik Bouaziz and Dr. Alix Casler, and Dr. Laura Gonzalez from the College of Nursing, who Dr. Simms-Cendan described as “the goddess of triage who was able to care for hundreds of people a day and educate students all at the same time. We absolutely couldn’t have done this without her.”

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