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Feature Article Medical Residents Gain International Clinical Experience

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The opportunity to participate in a medical mission and travel abroad can be a valuable experience for medical residents. Global health training provides residents with opportunities to treat patients with illnesses they would not typically encounter, strengthen diagnostic skills, develop cultural awareness and gain understanding of global health systems. 

As part of a medical mission Samaritan medical residents Michelle Pies, DO, and Eva McCarthy, DO, traveled to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. They were accompanied by Samaritan family physician Margo Carr, MD, and other volunteers to support the Haiti Health Initiative, a nonprofit organization serving the public health needs of rural Haitians.  It was a two week experience that would leave a life-long impression for the Samaritan volunteers.

With a population of over 10 million, Haiti is still struggling to rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.  Arriving in the midst of political protests in the capital Port-au-Prince, the Samaritan team’s first day began with a memorable trip. Traveling by van over a narrow mountain road, they made their way around blind corners, rock piles, potholes and burning tires.  They finally reached the village of “Timo” where the road ended and their journey continued on foot to the base of operations of their volunteer work.

The volunteers’ clinical duties included operating a medical clinic, treating anemia, diagnosing and treating hypertension and providing eye care.  Volunteers also led educational programs for midwives and taught a variety of other health topics including newborn care and the importance of sanitation.

The Samaritan physicians were joined by three other doctors, two nurses, two dietitians, an EMT, a pharmacist and an ophthalmologist. They provided medical care beneath a large tarp stretched between two houses before operations moved to a community center. Each day the team cared for 130 to 180 people, giving group education lessons and handing out hygiene kits and vitamins to prevent blindness. While some physicians stayed in the clinic, others went on home visits to care for the elderly and sick who could not make it in. 

Pies said going on house calls was her favorite experience from the trip that changed her life and made her a better doctor. 

“This is an incredibly rewarding experience,” Pies said. “Traveling to Haiti strengthened my diagnostic skills.” 

McCarthy helped to teach an OB skills class to a group of traditional birth attendants, who have no formal certification or education, and often provide the only care available to women in rural communities. She reviewed several topics related to birthing and obstetrics, including basic prenatal care, dating pregnancies and managing complications. 

“They carry a huge amount of responsibility,” McCarthy said. “The experience was incredibly enlightening and has left a lasting impression on me.” 

The medical team brought hundreds of pre-made cloth sanitary pads and patterns to teach women how to make reusable sanitary pads as part of the worldwide project, Every Girl, Everywhere, Period, which helps young women continue to attend school and work during their menstrual periods. 

The physicians also brought thousands of pairs of glasses and dozens of kits for midwives. Carr said she hopes that participating in Haiti’s Health Initiative projects could become an annual trip for Samaritan’s medical residents. 

“I was happy to be part of a group with a long view toward helping these people who are so beautiful and resilient,” Carr said.

Samaritan primary care residents interested in international clinical experience have a variety of opportunities to apply for medical missions across the world. Plans for residents in 2017 are currently underway and include trips to Ukraine, Guatemala and Malawi. 

Michelle Pies, DO, and Eva McCarthy, DO, graduated from Samaritan Health Services Graduate Medical Education program in June of 2016.