Mission to Haiti

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January 11, 2014

“It’s like going back 100 years in healthcare,” said Dr. Joyce Pulcini upon her returning from a medical mission trip to Haiti with eight GW SON students and three other faculty members. The group spent Jan. 5-11 in Haiti, providing care to patients in a women’s health center, mobile clinics and patients’ homes.  They also made health education presentations to both patients and healthcare providers.

This was the first such solo endeavor for the SON.  On the previous missions,  the SON  joined the School of Medicine & Health Sciences  and the School of Public Health & Health Services.

Rachel Sajous, in Accelerated BSN Cohort 6, is a Haitian native, having moved to the United States in 1998 at the age of 11.

“My trips to Haiti are often for vacation and to visit family. One of my long-term goals is to work in Haiti as a healthcare professional. Taking part in this trip was the perfect opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to be in Haiti in a professional capacity,” Ms. Sajous said.

She learned the impact of such trips on the first day. GW SON students and faculty were making home visits when they found a 10-year-old girl in severe pain with a massive leg infection.  The girl needed to go to the hospital, but her family had no way to transport her there. The GW group took her to a hospital, and also assisted in getting appropriate medicine that was unavailable at the hospital.

“I’ve never seen a child with an infection like that,” Dr. Pulcini said. The trips, which also include tours of hospitals, show students the differences between healthcare in this country and third-world countries, she said. During their stay, the group visited the Hinche Hospital and the Bernard Nev Hospital in Port au Prince.

“International medical mission trips provide insight on the state of health and healthcare in other countries; and nurses are in the perfect position to work in collaboration with other health professionals to contribute to the necessary improvements and positive change all over the world,” said Nicole McCrory, a student in Accelerated BSN Cohort 5. She wants to continue working with underserved populations, both domestically and internationally, Ms. McCrory said.

Tamara Helvetius, program coordinator of the school’s DNP program, has a master’s degree in public health and speaks fluent Creole, also traveled to Haiti. She and Ms. Sajous enabled the group to better communicate with the communities and local health professional than  on the previous medical missions.

Ms. Helvitius and Ms. Sajous often helped the GW group as translator as they spent two days running mobile health clinics in remote locations.

“Being able to speak Creole made it easier for me to obtain health history from patients and also to do various health presentations. Knowing about the local culture helped me to better understand the context many of the patients come from,” said Ms. McCrory.

Good communication is crucial in a place like Haiti that lacks state-of-the-art equipment, she said. While the group was working in the mobile clinics, she learned that, “you simply have to trust your ability to accurately assess the patient and to obtain a thorough health history.” .

The educational outreach their fluency enabled is a new endeavor that Dr. Pulcini, Director of Community & Global Health Initiatives for SON, hopes will improve a sustainable, longterm effect on the population there. The students prepared posters on health topics to present at the women’s clinics and another general healthcare clinic.

The group also gave a presentation about hypertension – which has become a serious problem in Haiti – to a group of community health workers. High-salt diets are the most likely culprit, so people need to learn to manage their diets and take their medication, she said.

The group learned from the healthcare workers in the clinics what support they need, and are working with those going to Haiti on future medical missions in March and July so that GW’s healthcare faculty and students have more of a continual presence, responsive to the community’s needs.

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