What will I/we do?
We are part of the public health service of the government of Haiti. We operate out of hospital located in the Verrettes Haiti, located in a rural, mountain region along the Artibonite Valley. Each day we set up the clinic in a different location chosen for us by the hospital administrator. Sometimes this is in an abandoned building, open field, on the hospital grounds meeting all -- frequently in a church or school building. We reorganize tables, bring folding chairs and carry our medical supplies with us. There will always be a 100 plus people waiting for us by the time we arrive – our day’s location having been announced by the hospital administration to the local community.
We carry pharmaceutical supplies. We may write prescriptions and send patients to the local hospital pharmacy.
Our mobile clinic is formed into teams of 2 people with a translator. These teams work in 8 to 12 clusters, with one or 2 physicians supervising each cluster. A less experience person is coupled with a more experienced team member. The first day of our trip we will study the assessment process and study the unique diseases that are in Haiti. In the clinic, after a patient assessment the team raises its hand and the supervising physician joins them. The physician will confirm the history, physical, assessment, and help the team develop a diagnosis and treatment plan. The patient is then directed back to the laboratory for point-of-care tests and/or to the pharmacy that we carry with us to obtain their medications. Chronic issues such as diabetes and hypertension are treated with 2-3 months of medication which we provide and are also referred back to the hospital for follow-up care. Acute conditions such as infectious diseases or minor surgical procedures are treated by team members on the spot.
In the evenings case management studies look at the more complex cases of the day so that we can all learn from each other’s experiences.
At the conclusion of this trip, you will have participated in treating over a thousand patients. You will be accompanied by experienced physicians who will be potential mentors in your future academic endeavors. If you are an experienced practitioner you will be able to work alongside kindred professionals and you also will enjoy the company and energy the younger team members bring to this process.
We’ll have a chance to work closely with our interpreter group, most whom have worked with us for over 10 years. Plus we’ll be training new interpreters in afternoon classes, if you wish to participate in that process.
We will be working alongside two nurses and an administrator from the local hospital which we serve and are a part of. This gives us a unique opportunity to learn from them and them from us. This interchange of concepts and the skills which they have mastered working in a resource poor environment is a significant benefit of our program for everyone involved. We are not paternalistically bringing modern, medical concepts to Haiti. We are amalgamating the skills of Haitian and our team members for the good of both.
We are secular with no religious motivation other than our personal ethical desire to do good for others.
In a very safe and direct way, we are imbedded into the local economy. We have clean water, great food, great place to stay, great friends, and many social opportunities to engage Haitian rural culture during our trips. Even though it is very tropical, many foods are seasonal. Similarly, Haitian cultural events are seasonal, with increased voudou activity in the dry season (December through April), but there is also something going on. And our team members are always invited into the activities that they are comfortable in joining.
In short – get ready for the trip of your life-time!
What will I do? I am a:
Physician, specialist, resident
Any physician who has never been to Haiti will be concerned if they have the skill sets needed in that environment. Subspecialists will be concerned that in a remote, rural area, which is where we will be working, that they may not have the tools to accomplish and utilize their level of expertise. There will always be physician leadership with us who have been with our group multiple times before, who will be assisting the group and participating in the briefing process. Subspecialist are extremely important to help us assess patient’s with complex and very often advanced medical surgical problems and to develop the best treatment plan. Additionally, any trip participants will be eager to discuss the career past that the specialist have taken and to learn basic skills during the afternoon workshops and evening discussions which we organize.
A group of 20 medical students formed this organization in 2010. By sending a team to Haiti, we were able to meet with the director of health and sanitation for the Artibonite region to and obtain permission for medical students, with physician supervision, to work in all of the public health hospitals and clinics in that area.
We then perfected the mobile clinic using physician supervision, nursing assistance with assessment, developing techniques to include premedical college students into the program. Medical students at every level from MS1 through MS4 have amazing hands-on, supervised experience, developing the skills and having the direct patient relationship the caused them to choose medicine as a profession in the first place. The gratification of our short six-day projects in Haiti can provide inspiration for years of hard study.
Nurse practitioner, physician assistant
It is an immense job seeing over 1000 patients in a rural clinic, many of whom require pelvic examinations, minor surgical procedures and the specialized knowledge that nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide out clinics. NP and PA work alongside our physician staff to help directly see patients and also assist our mobile clinic treatment teams.
Premedical, pre-dental, nursing student
Students planning a career in medicine are assigned to assist the treatment teams, work with the pharmacy personnel, and assist in helping patients who are waiting to be seen and immediately after their treatments. Our experience helps inspire them to continue studying hard to achieve their goal in medical education. The trip to Haiti provides a unique cultural experience, new friendships, and interaction with professionals that can seldom be achieved when first starting a college or technical training program.
We do not hang drywall, paint fences, or babysit orphans on our trips. A person with no medical training may wonder what possible help they could provide. There are not enough fingers on your hands to count the numbers of details that must be managed when setting up clinics every day and moving to new locations. We desperately need volunteer assistance from adults of any age to assist with this program. We cannot manage our mobile clinics without out volunteers – and our non-medical volunteers have been some of our most valuable supporters. Many times we will bring 500 to 700 pairs of glasses. Without lay volunteers, providing the ability to fit these glasses is impossible. Your involvement in activities like this puts you in direct contact with our patients. A lay volunteer will leave satisfied that they have been of significant help to our program and to the people of this rural Haitian community.
Age under 21
We do not take individuals under the age of 21 unless they are accompanied by a legal guardian or older sibling. Individuals in this category would work in close proximity to their guardian and with our lay volunteers. We have had many family groups make trips with us, many members of these families have made multiple return trips. If you are interested and are in this category, we can have one of these veterans of our program write you directly about their experience. We approve participation in this category on a case-by-case basis.
Who do I travel with and who meets me at the airport?
Our advisor, Dr. Forgey, generally accompanies each trip. You will be notified of his travel plans including the final air leg into Port-au-Prince. However, we’re also interested in helping you to find the least expensive ticket possible which may require your flying into Haiti separately. This will be your choice. That is still a very safe situation. We track all the flight numbers from people arriving in Haiti and will arrange to meet you in baggage claim inside the building at the airport in Port-au-Prince. You will have distinctive descriptions of who is to meet you. Outside the airport our staff wear very bright green smocks with “medical student missions” marked on them.
How large is our group? Can I organize my own group of friends to go with me?
Groups vary in size from 12-40. If your class wants to organize a trip we can probably accommodate them. If a group appears to grow too large, we would split into 2 subunits. We have done this very successfully with some of the larger groups as we have many experienced physician volunteers that can lead two separate mobile clinics simultaneously in different part of town. We would be staying together other than the clinic experiences, regardless.
Spring break is a difficult time for us to predict when trips will be held. We do not broadcast far in advance any potential spring trip. If you’re class wishes to organize a spring trip, please let us know and if it appears to the feasible we will then post that trip date. This does require us having one of our experience volunteer physicians available as well as to make the fairly complex supporting arrangements within Haiti – all of which we must coordinate closely with you for any special trip. Otherwise your group can join one of our previously designated and posted trips. If you do organize a special trip with a group of less than 30 people, we would want to invite others to join it in order to accomplish the maximum benefit for our mobile clinic operations.
Where do I stay and what do we eat?
Will be staying at a facility that has been built to teach agricultural students how to operate a model farm. The facility can accommodate 60 people in total. It has running water, flush toilets and showers. Sometimes there is no electricity, thus we suggest bringing a battery-powered fan which you will see on our suggested equipment list. We suggest you bring mosquito netting and treat it with permethrin before your trip. We provide water that is safe to drink, but we also suggest you bring in a specific water bottle with filter system that is on our list for use during the mobile clinic operations. We have remarkably good food produced by the model farm where we are staying. Our cooks have been working with us for over 5 years and they’ve do a remarkable job providing us both specific Haitian cuisine as well as good old fashion American style chow. We can provide vegetarian meals. If you have significant food allergies however, you need to be medically cleared by us prior to our accepting you for this trip.
What does it cost?
The 6 day long trips being posted for 2017 will cost $625. This includes the cost for housing food transportation security translators in all expenses dealing with your stay within the country of Haiti. Does not include $10 required for your visa at the border, or souvenir money. Local craftsman will wish to sell all sorts of art work, baskets, and locally made clothing items. All these purchases will require cash. It is not necessary to purchase anything while you are there , but it’s a once in the lifetime opportunity to find some of these items . You can exchange money once we reach the town of Verrettes. It would be unnecessary to bring any money but you might want to bring between $100 to $200, depending upon how many relatives or friends you have at home. Credit cards can be used at the airport for duty-free upon departure. You may want a credit card for use in United States during your return home.
What do I bring?
Refer to our list of items to bring. This list has links to Amazon.com to obtain the best pricing possible.
Should I bring gifts for local children or the community?
No. We are there to provide medical care which is an incredible gift and greatly appreciated by the community. We have been to this location over 30 times and are not plagued by begging children. Why? Because this is an un-spoilt rural culture. This is a proud culture that does not need handouts. Further, any merchandise that we bring in and dump for free on the local economy will destroy the small shop owners that attempt to better their lives with their road-side markets and homemade clothing and resell items. And candy is certainly out. Dental problems are rife in this community. There are plenty of sources of carbohydrate and sugar in Haiti. While obesity is not a problem (no fast food places here yet), diabetes is a major issue. If you have money to spend on gifts, please help donate to our medical supplies fund.
Is there Internet or telephone connection?
Only intermittently. Be prepared to be cut-off from the outside world. Carry a cell phone for use in the U.S. to contact us if you have problems with your flight being diverted or cancelled so we can make new arrangements to pick you up on Haiti. Give us your cell phone number. We will give you the cell phone for our leaders and our U.S. contact point. The cell service that does work in Haiti sometimes is AT&T. You will want to purchase an international calling plan, if you plan to use it. We can buy you a cheap cell phone for use in Haiti if you wish and these will work usually, sometimes. Currently, Sprint services, which connect through Digicel in Haiti, is currently the best cell service. In the past it was AT&T. This is all subject to change without notice. If everyone brings a cell phone, someone will probably have a service that works between AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.
Is there is security or disease risk?
Disease risk should be understood and appropriate prevention taken. This means you will need your usual immunizations and typhoid and hepatitis A. You will need to take malaria prevention pills. Bring your personal medications. It is critical to treat all of your clothing (underwear and socks included) with permethrin prior to departure. This is a condition of participation. You will need deet or picaradin insect protection for your skin. Sourcing of this material is on our equipment list (with the Amazon link). Also, bring that mosquito net and water bottle that we mention on our equipment list.
Trip members must review the information on the CDC web site (cdc.gov) and Department of State travel advisories concerning Haiti. You must acknowledge that you have read these sites when you sign your travel waiver.
What are the steps to sign-up?
Contact us and indicate which trip you are interested in hearing more about or going on.
When is my payment due?
Please, at one month before the trip. Purchase your airfare as soon as you decide to go and send us your flight itinerary.
Can I get a refund if I must cancel?
You can apply your trip cost to a future trip, but no refund will be made due to expenses that we commit to in Haiti when preparing for these trips. If we canceled the trip due to operational issues, we’ll refund the money. If we must cancel due to storms, political unrest that our associates deem as risky, or for other matters relating to your safety, we will not refund the money but will apply it to a future trip for you or someone you designate with a similar length service trip with us in Haiti. You need to purchase trip interruption insurance and medical treatment and evacuation insurance.
Who is Medical Student Missions – why that name?
The vast majority of people going on our trips are not medical students. We were formed by medical students wanting to go to Haiti to do medical service. We have found that the mobile clinic model was well suited for people with no or minimal medical training as they are valuable to assisting the operation of the clinic. Students in all levels of training are welcome, program was designed for them. This includes pre-medical, nursing students, and pre-dental students as well as students in those schools. We could not operate this program without the assistance of physicians provide mentoring and preceptor our clinic operations. We could not operate with our veteran trip physicians to provide guidance for those making their first trip to a developing country or running a rural mobile clinic in a resource poor location. But above all, we rely upon nurses. They are of particular assistance in providing treatment assessment skills and teaching these techniques. NPs and PAs work in our clinics or the hospital in conjunction with one of our experience physicians and have been invaluable instructing our students with various skills as well.
So while we were named Medical Student Missions by our forming Board of Directors, this organization is a service group dedicated to providing rural medical service in Haiti, with lay and professional volunteers as well as other students, operating under the auspices of the Haitian government, and is registered as a 501c(3) nonprofit in United States. All donations made by our trip participants go towards our service project in Haiti. We now also operate in Haiti as Health Corps Haiti to manage our MOU with the Medical Faculty at the University Henry Christophe, hosting seminars, and providing advanced medical services in Haiti. Medical Student Missions will still operate the volunteer mobile clinics in Verrettes, Haiti.
We are a very small organization run by volunteers, but providing a professional experience. You still must understand that we are primarily providing you with a service opportunity, not a vacation or adventure travel experience. Yes, it is all those things. It is also a chance to obtain a great resume and letters of recommendation that are far more interesting than the average person can obtain. But remember, you are really just joining a band of common adventurers with the primary purpose of providing medical service in rural Haiti. We, as volunteers, will help you prepare for your trip as much as we can, but we also rely on you to study our website, read about Haiti, study hard in school, read the CDC and the State Department advisories, and make your decisions accordingly.