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Calling All Doctors...

Hospital Leopoldo Pou in Samaná, Dominican Republic.    photo: Gabrielle Martinez

Paint chips peeling off the dilapidated ceiling fell to the ground. A table set up for delivering babies sat in a corner rusting away. Flies flew in and out of unscreened windows, while a nurse wiped blood from a counter with a piece of toilet tissue.

This is what students is Kathy Ozment’s “Dominican Republic Studies” course, and Roger N. Longenecker, M.D. ’56 observed when visiting the Hospital Leopoldo Pou in Samaná, Dominican Republic in January.

A year ago, when Ozment was in the process of making plans to take her students to the Dominican Republic during Interim session, she said she had an idea in her head…”What if we could get professionals in the United States, hopefully alumni, who could also go and work along with the students?”

Following a trip to the tiny town of Samaná in summer 2003, where she met with the doctors at the local hospital and discovered their great need for medical help, Ozment proposed the idea to Donald P. Kirkwood, vice president of advancement and marketing. “We thought it could be a good way for alumni to spend some time giving back in an area of their expertise,” said Kirkwood.

Longenecker, a retired physician who spent several years in the mid-60s working in a medical clinic in Malaysia, was interested in the possibility of doing volunteer work in the Dominican Republic, so he went along in January to explore the possibility further.

Dependent upon the Dominican government for funding, the hospital is a one-story concrete structure with darkened hallways, overflowing trashcans, and rickety old beds. Amy McCalicher ’04 said it was disheartening to see the hospital’s conditions. “It was dirty. It looked like a prison on the inside. I felt like just walking through I might catch something.” But, she added, “The doctors definitely care. They just don’t have the funds and equipment that they need.”

Despite the physical conditions, Ozment said the greatest need expressed by the Dominican doctors was education. “In the Dominican Republic, doctors are forced to specialize, so they feel they need more of a general training as it applies to family practice.”

Longenecker said that one frustration of the Dominican doctors is that when a physician comes down to help in the hospital, there’s no interaction between the visiting physician and the resident physician. “You can get the best doctors in the world to come down and help, but they may help 100 people and then go home. It doesn’t help in the long run,” he said.

While U.S. hospitals often donate medical equipment, the Dominican doctors can’t use it because of the country’s lack of electrical capacity and uncertain electrical supply. And sometimes, doctors simply don’t know how to operate the equipment. “You can’t just give the gift of a machine. You have to teach them how to use it,” Longenecker stressed.

With motorcycle accidents being the number one cause of death in the Dominican Republic, doctors there are also very interested in acquiring the equipment for and learning how to do intubations. “In the Dominican Republic, anesthesiologists are the only ones who know how to do intubations and they sometimes live an hour away,” said Ozment. “So, most people die before they can get help.”

Clearly, said Longenecker, “There is a need.” With Ozment’s help in paving the way and making the connections, “I think something could really happen.”

Because the needs are so great, Albright is currently determining how best to involve Albright graduates who are physicians in a project to improve health care in Samaná, Dominican Republic. If you’re an Albright alumnus/a with a medical background, and you would like to get involved, call or email Donald P. Kirkwood, vice president for advancement & marketing, at 610-921-7501 or dkirkwood@alb.edu, to learn more about how you can contribute to this project.

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