Published April 28, 2016
It sounds improbable, but some residents of Fontaine, a poor, medically underserved village in rural Haiti, have come to view UB medical students and faculty as their primary care providers.
That’s a result of the medical missions that students and faculty from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have been making. Earlier this month, they made their fifth trip to Fontaine, Haiti, led by David Holmes, clinical associate professor of family medicine and director of global health education. Another team, led by Jennifer Corliss, clinical assistant professor of family medicine, went to Honduras for the first time.
Fontaine is about five hours north of Port-au-Prince and while a clinic is less than a half hour’s drive away, most people in the village have no way to get there. So when students and faculty from the medical school arrived in town earlier this month, they managed to see some patients they had previously treated.
“I really liked this trip because I got to see a number of patients who I treated on earlier trips there,” Vinny Polsinelli, a third-year medical student who started the UB medical trips to Haiti, told the UB Reporter. While an undergraduate at Siena College, he started traveling to Haiti with Friends of Fontaine, the nonprofit organization that built the first school in the village. He now serves on its board.
“There was a day on this trip where every patient I saw was a follow-up patient,” Polsinelli said. “I knew them and their medical histories.
“UB students and faculty have basically become the primary care physicians for the people of Fontaine and surrounding villages,” he said. “We go to the same village twice a year and do our best to meet the primary care needs of the people during the limited amount of time that we are there, so we manage to provide some continuity of care.”
The team headed by Corliss provided care to about 450 patients during its trip to Honduras during the medical school’s spring break earlier this month.
Seventeen medical students, one UB medical resident, three UB faculty members, a UB office manager and an ultrasound technician from Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo who brought a portable ultrasound machine along went on the Haiti trip.
“The ultrasound machine was very helpful, allowing us to do prenatal checks and to evaluate abdominal pain, genitourinary problems and other conditions,” Holmes said.
The UB team also brought eyeglasses for patients. “Our students really enjoyed seeing the smiles on patients’ faces when they realized how much better they could see,” he said.
And while health care was the primary goal, members of the UB team also helped with a home repair project village leaders had begun.
“Many people in the village live in homes that are falling into disrepair,” Holmes noted. “Among other things, their thatched roofs leak — a big problem in the rainy season. Our students did some fundraising before the trip, which helped pay for two homes to get new metal roofs. We also paid for a new roof on the one-room school house in a nearby village,” he said. “Some of our students took some time off from the medical mission to help the Haitian workers with these repairs.”
Holmes directs the Department of Family medicine’s Global Health Education Program, which facilitates 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.
What a wonderful story of unselfishness, service and compassion!