By: Elise Vuille-Lessard
The Global Health Travel Award for Postgraduate Medical Residents
I am a PYG-3 in internal medicine based at the Royal Victoria Hospital. What made me want to participate in the McGill Internal Medicine Global Health Initiative in Haiti was the idea of a long-term partnership between McGill and Haitian doctors and of capacity building, rather than a one-time intervention.
Elise in Haiti
This project is a one-month elective rotation where a team composed of internal medicine senior residents and staff from McGill works at Hopital St-Nicolas (HSN) in St-Marc, Haiti. This involves collaborating with local residents and staff as well as Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health (ZL/PIH), the largest non-government health care provider in Haiti. The goal of this project is to maintain a partnership with ZL and the family medicine program at HSN (including exchanging knowledge, teaching, mentoring), while developing competencies for McGill residents in global health.
Change is so difficult to implement. Last year’s team had tried to implement the concept of a patient list on the ward, using whiteboards where you put the patient age, sex, diagnosis and plan. Unfortunately, the first day we arrived to the hospital, the whiteboards were empty. We re-emphasised this concept and did some positive reinforcement throughout the month, and finally the boards were being used when we left. Our fear was that residents would stop using them after we left, but 1 month later we were excited to learn that they were still in use. Change IS possible! I was sometimes discouraged thinking what we were doing was a wasted effort, that those interventions we were making would not stay. But when I learned that the whiteboards were still in use after we were gone, I suddenly felt like I had done something good and valuable.
Students looking for a global health experience need to find a project that involves a long-term relationship with the local workers and try to avoid sporadic interventions. The main reason for that is that the time spent on-site is limited and maintaining the change afterwards becomes the most difficult challenge. One of the terms I learned with this project is “capacity building”, which includes finding ways of making an intervention sustainable.
This experience influenced my future career plans in many ways. I don’t know when I will participate again in a global health initiative, maybe not in the near future, but possibly later in my professional life. One thing this experience did reinforce is my desire to be a teacher. I certainly want to work in an academic setting and teach young people how to become better doctors, in regards to the medicine itself but also the human side of it.