Published June 16, 2014
University at Buffalo medical students traded classrooms and comfort for hands-on clinical experience during career- and life-enhancing international medical relief trips this spring.
Twenty-two students worked side by side UB family medicine faculty physicians and residents in makeshift clinics, immersing themselves in the culture — and the myriad health care challenges — of the developing world.
Eleven students, including 10 in their first year, volunteered in rural Fontaine, Haiti; on separate trips, six first-year and five second-year students joined the non-profit Floating Doctors in remote villages in Panama.
“It was the hottest, hardest, and most exhausting spring break we’ve ever had and yet it was also incredibly refreshing and enjoyable,” says David M. Holmes, MD, clinical associate professor of family medicine, who accompanied the Haiti group.
“The medical students learned a lot about how to diagnose various conditions without technology and how to treat patients with limited resources,” Holmes says.
In Haiti, for example, where the UB group saw nearly 800 patients, students palpated an enlarged liver, assisted with cyst excision, diagnosed cataracts and urinary tract infections, and fashioned a splint out of cardboard.
They also learned how cultural differences can significantly affect health and health care. Haitians, for example, carry items, including heavy water containers, on their heads, explaining why so many complain of headaches, notes Holmes.
The volunteer experience in Panama “was a great learning experience,” says Howard Soh, a rising third-year medical student who helped organize one of the trips.
“We were exposed to such different illnesses compared to those we commonly see in the states. Moreover, we had adequate time to interview and examine patients — a luxury that does not always exist in American medicine.”
The volunteers also experienced local food, recreation, shopping, natural sites and generally “enjoyed getting to know some of the Haitians,” Holmes notes.
“The Haitian people can teach us so much about respect, patience and how to treat others,” says rising second-year medical student Vincenzo Polsinelli, who helped organize the Haiti trip. “They have a very difficult life here but it is rich in love for one another and I found that very inspiring.”
Soh’s Panama team, who spent most of the week in the mountain village of Norteño, engaged students, physicians and health care professionals from different parts of the world. “It was interesting to share stories of how medicine is practiced across different cultures,” he says.
UB medical trainees can take advantage of numerous medical service opportunities.
Holmes directs global health education for UB’s Family Medicine Department, facilitating a variety of experiences for medical students and graduate trainees who want to work with patients in medically underserved areas of the world or with refugees in Buffalo.
He also oversees the department’s focused global health scholars track for select residents.
First-year medical students: Caroline Brotzki; Sana Maheshwari; Anna-Claire Marrone; Sarah Morse, PharmD; Vinny Polsinelli; Taylor Shreve; Jessica Strauss; Jennifer Taylor; Ellen Tokarz; Mark Waweru
Fourth-year medical student: Tyler Moore
Obstetrics and gynecology resident: Ryan Arnold, MD
Faculty: David Holmes, MD
First-year medical students: Arielle Bokhour, Joseph Ferraro, Crystal Han, Tanya Orellana, Amish Patel, Kathleen Soltis
Second-year medical students: Jenny Harb, Tom Krier, Reed LaSala, Everett Sinibaldi, Howard Soh
Family medicine resident: Kevin Lesh, MD
Faculty: Jennifer M. Corliss, MD, and Ellis E. Gomez, MD