“Then my husband saw an ad on the CIR [website] about volunteering through Project Medishare, and we jumped on the opportunity.”
Dr. Samina Azam did her internal medicine residency and geriatrics fellowship at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn,, while her husband,
Dr. Asif Azam, completed his family medicine residency at Jamaica Hospital in Queens. The couple shared their experience after a week spent volunteering at Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince through CIR and Project Medishare.
“My first one to two days, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the new culture, new people, new atmosphere with a totally different way of working,” said Samina.
While Asif worked night shifts, his wife worked days, and they saw each other in passing as they signed out to one another at the start and end of each twelve-hour shift.
“There was limited space for patients, but we made do with what we had,” he said. “If not a bed, then a stretcher, if not that, a wheelchair, if none of those then a bench or a chair.”
Samina found Hospital Bernard Mevs to be a good facility, well-stocked with medical donations. “But some things were scarce,” she said. “So we had to use things very wisely.”
The couple noticed some distance between permanent staff and the volunteers at first, but they were able to build relationships as the week progressed.
“Once we got to know each other, I should say that they were the most wonderful and kind people I have ever met,” Samina said. “I realized how difficult it must be for them to see every week new faces, to get to know them, like them, and to say goodbye.”
“When we were leaving, they were asking over and over again when we are coming back again,” she said.
One of the more difficult aspects of the experience was the lack of long-term care for patients, as incomes and literacy rates remain low in the years since the earthquake. “It’s challenging, not knowing if the patient can or will follow up,” said Asif, “. . . knowing that some things need to be done, but cannot because the patient can’t afford the test.” Samina agreed, recalling patients who had to be transferred out for a CT scan. “In American dollars it would cost them $7 with transport, CT scan, and a CD to bring back – yes! Only $7, but the sad thing was that some of them could not afford even that.”
When asked if they would encourage others to volunteer in Haiti, both doctors gave a resounding yes, noting that the experience is an incredible eye opener and a way not just to help those in need in Haiti, but to reflect on life in the United States as well.
“I feel people need to see and be able to compare how wasteful we as Americans can be,” said Asif.
“Even though I left Haiti, I left part of my soul there,” said Samina, “And every time I think about the Haitian people I keep remembering all the smiling faces and their song for me – ‘Samina mina OO waka waka AA’.”
Drs. Samina and Asif Asam applied for funding to work in Haiti through the CIR Alumni Network and the CIR Policy and Education Initiative. For information on Haiti and other programs available to former CIR members, please visit www.cirseiu.org/alumni.
RECRUIT CIR ALUMNI Is your practice short a specialist? Are you starting a new clinic and looking for primary care physicians? Know a hospital administrator looking for new faculty? You can now share opportunities with current CIR members and alumni on our website at www.cirseiu.org/job-opportunities. Submit job descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org.