U of I medical staffers serve while learning in Haiti

A group of physicians, nurses, and medical students recently returned from Haiti after caring for patients, delivering babies, and serving the needy for two weeks in February. 

Alexis Gumm and Taylor Stanton, students at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, were part of the team and traveled to Cap Haitien, Haiti, as a part of the very first “Haiti Away Rotation in OB/GYN.” 

The rotation offered the students an opportunity to experience another culture, witness and participate in delivering healthcare in a third-world setting, and have many unique direct patient care experiences that are rarely possible for them in the U.S. The team spent the majority of their time at Justinien University Hospital in Cap Haitien, Haiti. 

Justinien is a large, 300 – bed, government – run facility that is the major referral hospital in the Northern Region of Haiti and serves a population area of about 300,000 people. 

Once on the ground, the team became busy almost immediately. After Morning Report and a brief tour of the facility, they went right to work. 

The students participated in delivering babies, performing C-Sections, and also scrubbing in on major gynecologic surgery. They also got to experience Haitian culture with limited sightseeing and some relaxation on the weekends. 

While both students undoubtedly enjoyed the spicy delicious Haitian food, the trips to the craft market, and the 80 degree weather in the middle of February in Haiti, it was not all fun and games. 

During the week, they were guided through this learning experience by the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford faculty from the department of obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Timothy Durkee, chairman; Dr. Thomas Toussaint, clinical instructor; and Dr. Nicolai Hinds, clinical assistant professor.  

“While this Rotation represents an opportunity to have a truly unique life experience and a chance to get away from the ordinary in the middle of med school, we also thought it was very important that this remain first and foremost an educational experience,” Dr. Hinds said.

As such, both students gave lectures at Grand Rounds in Haiti to an audience that included Haitian medical students and residents, and the faculty. They also had constant clinical teaching at the bedside, and in the operating room, and especially when a rare or unusual diagnosis would arise. Like any Rotation, the Haiti Away Rotation in OB/GYN is a graded activity and faculty comments and evaluations will become a part of the students’ final transcripts. 

One of the highlights of the trip was a day of service. Instead of going to the hospital, the team set out for a drive over dusty roads and crossed a few dry riverbeds to go to a small remote village, just outside the town of Gonaives, Haiti. Once there, they were met by a crowd of people who had been waiting for hours in the Haitian sun to receive free healthcare.