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Practical Experience for Haiti's New Generation of Doctors

By David Einhorn, Guest Correspondent

A doctor talking with patient

Students in medical fields at public universities in Haiti must complete several months of community service upon graduation. Since 1996, dozens have chosen to work at the St. Boniface Hospital in Fond des Blancs, even though it is often far from home.

26-year-old Theodule Jean Baptiste finished seven years of studies at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy at the State University in Port-au-Prince last year. Since December 2011, he has worked as an admitting physician at St. Boniface, which is even further from his hometown of Cap-Haïtien, in the country’s north.

But Jean Baptiste has no regrets.

“It’s challenging—you have to make decisions and you are fully responsible,” he says.

The line for consultations twists around the corner of Jean Baptiste’s office all day long—and the days can be long. Every third week he pulls 24-hour shifts for emergency care.

Jean Baptiste is one of four medical graduates, along with graduates in pharmacy and nursing, currently fulfilling their community service requirements at St. Boniface.  Haitian universities have been sending graduates to Fond des Blancs to fulfill their community service requirements since 1994. The young professionals are mentored by more experienced medical staff and attend regular seminars and training sessions. They also gain practical experience that can be invaluable.

“Working with poor people from rural areas can be a lot different from working in the city,” Jean Baptiste says. “Here, I see patients in a social context, and I’ve learned to adapt my approach. Sometimes I have to compare the price of a patient’s transportation versus the value of the service they will receive.”

Deputy Director General of the hospital, Dr. Miliane Clermont, says she believes the medical graduates choose St. Boniface because it gives them a chance to practice their profession in a structured environment.

Jean Baptiste, who will finish his community service stint in September, is uncertain whether he will become a general practitioner or continue on with a specialty. One thing he’s certain about? What he’s gained by working at St. Boniface: “I’ve gotten to work as a real doctor,” he says.Students in medical fields at public universities in Haiti must complete several months of community service upon graduation. Since 1996, dozens have chosen to work at the St. Boniface Hospital in Fond des Blancs, even though it is often far from home.

26-year-old Theodule Jean Baptiste finished seven years of studies at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy at the State University in Port-au-Prince last year. Since December 2011, he has worked as an admitting physician at St. Boniface, which is even further from his hometown of Cap-Haïtien, in the country’s north.

But Jean Baptiste has no regrets.

“It’s challenging—you have to make decisions and you are fully responsible,” he says.

The line for consultations twists around the corner of Jean Baptiste’s office all day long—and the days can be long. Every third week he pulls 24-hour shifts for emergency care.

Jean Baptiste is one of four medical graduates, along with graduates in pharmacy and nursing, currently fulfilling their community service requirements at St. Boniface.  Haitian universities have been sending graduates to Fond des Blancs to fulfill their community service requirements since 1994. The young professionals are mentored by more experienced medical staff and attend regular seminars and training sessions. They also gain practical experience that can be invaluable.

“Working with poor people from rural areas can be a lot different from working in the city,” Jean Baptiste says. “Here, I see patients in a social context, and I’ve learned to adapt my approach. Sometimes I have to compare the price of a patient’s transportation versus the value of the service they will receive.”

Deputy Director General of the hospital, Dr. Miliane Clermont, says she believes the medical graduates choose St. Boniface because it gives them a chance to practice their profession in a structured environment.

Jean Baptiste, who will finish his community service stint in September, is uncertain whether he will become a general practitioner or continue on with a specialty. One thing he’s certain about? What he’s gained by working at St. Boniface: “I’ve gotten to work as a real doctor,” he says.