Upstate medical student Rachelle St. Onge spent six weeks in Haiti this year working on a public health project at a small, 10-bed hospital.
For most of that time, Rachelle gathered data on diseases in the region where she worked. The data will be used by H.O.P.E., a Rochester-based organization, to apply for funding to treat prevalent conditions there such as intestinal parasites, scabies and urinary tract infections.
The first week, though, Rachelle joined 30 members of the hospital at a mobile clinic in a remote area. It was a 4 ½-hour hike each way, with medical supplies and camping gear to carry (see photo below). Doctors, nurses and staff saw 2,500 patients in a week, testing for and treating infectious diseases. “I was very impressed,” Rachelle said.
The Haiti experience served as Rachelle’s field placement for Upstate’s CNYMPH program. She’s a third-year medical student pursuing a dual MD/MPH degree. The trip was funded in part by a Susan Stearns PhD Scholarship for International Travel, a $500 award for Upstate medical students studying abroad. Dr. Stearns is assistant dean of Student Affairs and director of the Center for Civic Engagement.
Rachelle said the people in Haiti were very welcoming and generous. She bonded with a woman who worked in the kitchen at the hospital, Lucilia, who made sure Rachelle had everything she needed.
“It felt nice to be a part of the culture,” she said. “I don’t know Creole, but I know French from my time in the Peace Corps, so that helped.”
Rachelle spent 2007 to 2009 in West Africa as a Peace Corps rural community health volunteer in Benin after she graduated from the University of Vermont.
In Benin, Rachelle helped women with maternal health, hygiene and nutrition, and set up programs in which selected women would serve as group leaders and reinforce the information she had shared.
Rachelle, who grew up in Morrisville, N.Y., has always wanted to be a physician, blending her passion for helping people with her love of science. She would like to combine her interests in OB/GYN and global health.
For global health efforts to succeed, Rachelle said, programs must be operated by people in the community, as was the case at the hospital in Haiti. “The staff was Haitian-born, which is essential for understanding the community’s needs,” Rachelle said. “It has to be run by the local people.”