“We have about eight Haitian-descent students participating who have never been to Haiti,” reports Howard University Department of Medicine Chair Dr. Shelly McDonald-Pinkett, of the upcoming, late June, medical mission to Haiti. “Their parents are very excited, enthusiastic, and they encourage their participation.”
Howard University Medical School is collaborating for the third year with NOAH NY’s annual medical service trips to northern Haiti. These trips are part the organization’s long-term commitment of medical treatment (including professional trainings and physical education) to the people Ft. Liberté.
“Some students are second or third generation Haitian and have never been to Haiti,” says Dr. McDonald-Pinkett. “For some, it’s a sense of social commitment, others like to travel, and a few have never travelled outside of the country and this is a great opportunity with a good support network.”
The Department chair explained that last year; the Howard medical group saw 150 patients the first day. During their time in Ft. Liberté, the surgical team performed hernia repairs; surgically set a broken arm, performed hysterectomies, and delivered babies.
The medical team handled patients with hypertension– many previously untreated, and treated and dispensed WHO-approved medications for a number of local residents with diabetes, many advanced. In the pediatric realm, malnutrition and skin disorders due to bad water were common.
This year, 50 Howard University students, along with 10 of the university’s doctors, faculty and other staff will join the NOAH NY 85-member team – including 25 doctors– for the nine-day trip. Among this year’s post-grad residents, there will also be three nursing students, a pharmacist, and a physician-assistant.
Embedded in the Howard Medical School curriculum, the time at the Ft. Liberté hospital is part of the students’ training rotation in the areas of internal medicine, OB-GYN, pediatrics, and surgery.
“The Howard group to Haiti is designed to look like our hospital teams of students, residents and faculty when they’re doing their clinicals,” says Dr. McDonald-Pinkett, returning for her fifth time.
Before the students leave, for a week, there is a mandatory two hours-a-day seminar on Haitian culture, needs assessment, common diseases to expect and medical Creole. Haitian-born Howard University Arts & Science School Professor Fred Williams teaches the Creole section. Added this year is a course in ethics-in-service learning and also, the creation of a field notebook.
“This is a powerful experience students to interact with residents and doctors and the Haitian hospital’s medical director,” Dr. McDonald-Pinkett says.
The actual trip is not an easy one. Students travel by bus from Washington D.C. to NY and then to JFK. After a night in Port-au-Prince, they will travel six hours, caravan-style by bus or van, to Ft. Liberté.
Participating students pay $750, half the trip cost, and the University holds fundraisers for the balance. NOAH NY organizes the in-country logistics.
Of the seriousness of their involvement, “the Howard University program has an official agreement with the Ministry of Health of the Haitian government, Ft. Liberté, and NOAH NY,” emphasizes the chair.
Each year, the number of Howard’s participates increases. NOAH NY works in partnership with the Haitian American Alliance (HAA) and many other Haitian organizations and has been providing medical service trips to Haiti since 2007. Its long-term goal is to help build a hospital in Ft. Liberté.