Tyler Moore, MD, with patient in Haiti.

In a makeshift clinic in a school building in Haiti, Tyler Moore, MD (center), then a fourth-year medical student, informed a patient about test results.

UB Volunteers Help Care for 1,000-Plus Patients In Haiti, Panama

Published June 16, 2014 This content is archived.

Story by Suzanne Kashuba

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.

“It was the hottest, hardest, and most exhausting spring break we’ve ever had and yet it was also incredibly refreshing and enjoyable. ”
David M. Holmes, MD
Clinical associate professor of family medicine and director of global health education

Week-Long, Challenging Experiences

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.

Hands-On Clinical, Cultural Immersion

David M. Holmes, MD, and student work on patient's toe.

Medical student Sana Maheshwari (right) helped David M. Holmes, MD, prepare a patient’s foot for wart removal with cryotherapy.

“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.”

‘Inspiring’ Personal Connections

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 Opportunities Address Global Health

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.

UB Medical Relief Volunteers – Spring 2014

Fontaine, Haiti

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