2015 marked the first year that the US Navy’s USNS Comfort—an enormous floating hospital ship equipped with trained medical personnel and advanced healthcare tech—visited Dominica as part of its worldwide humanitarian medical mission. Stops in years past included places like Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, where Navy physicians and partner organizations set up mobile medical and dental clinics to provide healthcare to underserved populations in those areas.
What really struck us about the Comfort’s visit to Dominica from July 28 to Aug. 6, though, is how neatly it fits into what we’re trying to do right here at Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM). In many ways, RUSM and the island it sits upon were natural partners for the Navy’s humanitarian initiative. Find out why below.
Navy physicians conducted most of the intricate surgeries in the high-tech surgical suites onboard the Comfort, but most of the one-on-one doctor-patient work was conducted at mobile screening clinics that the Navy had set up at local schools: one in Roseau, the other in Portsmouth. Thousands of patients showed up at the sites for screenings, diagnoses, patient education, and treatment—things that some of us take for granted here, but just aren’t accessible in Dominica.
Third-semester RUSM student Ricardo Leante, who observed surgeries on the Comfort and also participated in field work in the clinics, sums it up well. “In Dominica, the healthcare system is preventive,” he says. “So the people here can manage simple conditions very well, but [diagnosing and treating] more intricate conditions require sophisticated equipment that you just can’t access here. The Navy helps make it happen, though. And they do it for free.”
Our own dean and chancellor, Joseph A. Flaherty, MD, often stresses the importance of providing healthcare to underserved populations. After all, he says, these communities have the greatest need—and by serving those who have access to less, RUSM students can learn that there’s certain things about being a doctor, like a sense of how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others, that you just can’t learn from books.
“When we learned that the Comfort would be making a stop in Dominica, we quickly realized that this was a stunning opportunity for our students to really immerse themselves in what it’s like to be a physician,” Flaherty says. “Being a doctor is certainly about having the right mix of smarts, knowledge, and dedication, but it’s also about being a good person and caring about your fellow man—things that you can’t necessarily teach. I think our students got a taste of that during the Comfort mission, and I hope it’s energized them as much as it’s energized me.”
Rhonda McIntyre, a pediatrics professor at RUSM and director of the school’s International Health Program, noted that students got something else out of the medical mission: A glimpse into their careers as physicians.
“They’re getting the opportunity here to see what they will be like as physicians in the United States,” she says. “It’s a model for their futures, and the opportunity of a lifetime. These students had the chance to work alongside US physicians in Dominica, so they’re seeing local patients alongside US physicians. What better cultural competency training could you have than that?”
“Being able to apply concepts from the classroom in a clinical setting is probably one of the more rewarding things. We’re able to see a patient, not just a textbook. I worked in pediatrics. I want to be a pediatrician.”Jeslyn Thomas, 3rd semester, originally from Georgia
“I knew this was my chance to come out and get involved.”Jakub Halicki, 2nd semester, originally from New Jersey