Konbit Sante recently hosted three physicians from New England who graciously volunteered their time at our partner facilities in Cap-Haitien:
* Dr. John Devlin, an endocrinologist who is affiliated with several hospitals in the Portland area, including Maine Medical Center and Maine Veterans Affairs Medical Center,
* Dr. Daniel B. Sobel, a neonatologist with Maine Neonatology Associates in Portland, and
* Dr. Stephen J. Hoenig, a vascular surgeon in private practice and medical director of the Emerson Hospital Center for Advanced Wound Care in Concord, Massachusetts.
All three are serving as mentors to medical residents at Justinien University Hospital as part of a 10-month pilot course on research gathering and evaluation offered by the hospital with support from Konbit Sante, the Haiti Medical Education project, and City University of New York. The course focuses on conducting practical operational research with the goal of helping healthcare providers acquire new skills to answer practical questions about the quality of care they provide in their daily work. Having mentors support groups of new researchers is an important part of the learning experience for the residents.
Devlin’s interest in medical care delivery in developing countries was stimulated when he spent three months in rural Jamaica as a fourth-year medical student. He began traveling to Haiti with Konbit Sante in 2006. In mid-January, he spent a week at JUH to serve as a mentor for two groups of residents who are conducting research on diabetes care, Devlin’s area of expertise.
“This seemed like the perfect opportunity to return to Cap, and also to get involved with what sounded like a very exciting and worthwhile effort,” Devlin said upon his return. “… Two of the groups had chosen diabetes as their area of interest: one group planning to examine the effectiveness of counseling by residents in the clinic, and the other the impact of traditional medical benefits (‘voodoo’) on diabetes self-management behaviors and adherence to medical advice.”
Devlin noted that one of the pleasures of being a mentor was that “you also need to be the ‘mentee’ through self-education and honing skills that were either never fully developed or have lain fallow for many years,” such as becoming familiar with new digital tools available for conducting research. He is looking forward to tracking the groups’ progress, both on-site and remotely.
Sobel and Hoenig had never visited Haiti before, so their trip in late January–early February served a dual purpose: not only did they serve as research mentors to resident groups, they received initial first-hand exposure to the work of Konbit Sante and the challenges within the Haitian health system. They visited all of Konbit Sante’s partner facilities, including HCBH, where Hoenig assisted staff with wound management, and JUH, where Sobel assisted with neonatal care.
Hoenig is mentoring a group whose focus is general surgery, and another whose focus is orthopedic surgery. “I hope that by creating a dialogue between myself and these aspiring physicians, perhaps we can better understand the different worlds we live in,” he said. “The projects that were chosen are important and excellent choices. They bring to the table broader conversations of the medical science.”
Sobel, who is mentoring groups that are conducting research on neonatal and pediatric care, also met with Dr. Rony Saint Fleur, Konbit Sante’s pediatric program manager, about quality improvement initiatives in the NICU (newborn intensive care unit), including auditing the teaching of a neonatal resuscitation program to rotating interns and preparing a bed in anticipation of neonatal admissions.
“After my visit to Haiti, the breadth of the issues involved in providing for the health of its people is no longer a theoretical concept,” Sobel said. “Konbit Sante has marshaled engineering and architectural expertise to improve, create and maintain infrastructure. It has provided medical supplies and an infusion of skilled medical expertise to work within existing institutions to support a local cadre of dedicated individuals to promote quality medical care for the citizens of Cap-Haitien. This continues a long-term commitment to the process of quality improvement and accountability.”
Sobel and Hoenig will continue mentoring their resident groups remotely. More volunteers are scheduled to travel to Haiti in the weeks and months ahead to serve as mentors.
Konbit Sante is indebted to these three physicians and to all of our volunteers, whose assistance provides invaluable support toward helping us increase capacity for a healthier Haiti. Volunteer opportunities are available in Haiti and in Maine. For more information, email Assistant Executive Director Susan Viets at firstname.lastname@example.org.