Thirty medical, nursing, pharmacy and engineering students from the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida set up four rural clinics and saw nearly 600 patients in Dominican Republic this summer as part of a UCF global health program.
An accompanying chaplain also helped hundreds dealing with emotional distress linked to physical abuse. They acted as Samaritans helping poor communities on the island, some of which lacked running water and electricity.
“I can’t stop talking about it,” said second-year UCF medical student Denise Feradov, who helped organize the trip that included students, faculty, a NASA engineer, community physicians and the chaplain. “Every single day it was the most unimaginable steep learning curve.”
While island residents benefited from care, the students learned about the importance of working together across disciplines and the impact something as simple as a river can have on the health of a community.
Bao Lam, a second-year pharmacy student at UF, said he gained a better understanding of healthcare teams and was better able to “make medically sound decisions because of mutual trust. This is the core of interprofessional collaboration.”
Even students with previous medical missions experience benefited from the mix of participants on the trip.
“It was excellent learning from the nursing students as far as triage and taking vitals, and pharmacy with all the medications are absolutely indispensable,” said Erin Kane, a fourth-year medical student at UCF who volunteered in the Dominican Republic last year. “And with engineering, it was fabulous to come to see their perspective. As we’re focusing on the medical needs of the community, the engineers were showing us how the infrastructure is directly affecting the community’s health.”
One mountain village gets cut off when high waters make the river impassable. Some residents only have electricity for four hours a day.
“What was interesting was that the engineers were able to identify the causes of many of the health problems affecting residents, such as contaminated drinking water and limited electricity,” said Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, who led the team. She is the director of Global Health and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UCF College of Medicine.
UF pharmacy students and faculty attended to medications, and UCF Engineers Without Boarders assessed sanitation, water quality and infrastructure needs.
NASA construction manager Drew Horn led the engineering students. They met with villagers and toured their communities to address infrastructure and sanitation concerns.
“You go in and want to fix everything,” said Becca Shea, a UCF mechanical engineering student. “But it works for them. They work with what they have.”
Shea and others hope to return to the island next year to help one community plan and build a small bridge.
While the engineering students focused on infrastructure and the other students focused on medical issues such as hypertension, diabetes and chikungunya — a mosquito-borne illness that brings symptoms of fever and aches and pains, Chaplain Linda Simmons from Winter Park was busy helping those with emotional and spiritual distress.
“Some of the counseling was very challenging and was a heavy burden — also for the students — with some family violence that we came to be aware of,” Simmons said. “It made me realize that people everywhere go through some of the same struggles and people there are very brave and courageous, and they inspired me to put some of my concerns in perspective. I think it made an impact I’m going to carry with me for a long time.”
That’s the kind of impact the Diebel family of Orlando hopes to make among future doctors participating in the mission trips. The family set up the Diebel Legacy Fund at the Central Florida Foundation in memory of Dr. Don Diebel, who died in 2002 at a traffic accident scene where he stopped to help victims.
The fund provided scholarships to cover travel expenses for many of the students. Family members say Dr. Diebel lived his life like a “good Samaritan” and they hope that by helping student doctors see the impact they can have, they can create a new generation of Samaritans.