A meeting between four Haitian medical students and a New York physician, shortly after the devastating earthquake of January 2010, was the starting point of the Haiti Medical Education (HME) Project. George, Junior, Marc and Djamesson’s professional future was in danger; their medical school had been severely damaged in the earthquake and many of their instructors had gone missing. Amidst all the other upheaval caused by the disaster, they didn’t know if they would be able to continue their training to become the physicians that Haiti critically needs. In the United States we take our system of medical education for granted: of course we will continue to graduate and train new doctors, of course we will have continuing education for practicing physicians. Can you imagine a country with no trained doctors of its own? This is the future that Haiti faces.
Although the post-earthquake response from outside to aid the population was commendable, there was still a vacuum that needed to be filled. Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s medical education system was inadequate to meet the needs of the population. Now even more, medical schools are missing crucial teaching materials and personnel. Post-graduation, in a period when young physicians are supposed to be continuing their training, residents are overworked with clinical responsibilities and in the little time they have for education, there are no libraries, no internet connection, no electronic resources, and a limited number of faculty. Lastly, practicing physicians not only face significant financial burdens because of a payment system that requires them to work long hours in sub-standard clinical care facilities, but they also have no opportunities for continuing medical education (CME), and many of them are isolated, with no supportive collegial community in Haiti or around the world.
The HME Project has been working to change all that. We do that through a strategic and systematic dialogue that engages local stakeholders including medical education leadership, practicing physicians and policymakers. With our partners, we seek to improve communication, and ignite collaboration toward the planning and maintenance of sustainable medical education programs in Haiti. The programs span all levels of medical education: undergraduate medical education (medical schools), post-graduate trainings (residency programs) and practicing physicians (continuing medical education).
The ultimate goal is to promote the advancement of medical training in Haiti, which in turn will affect health care delivery and improve clinical care at the population level. Working in close collaboration with our Haitian partners at medical schools, medical associations, government agencies and the nonprofit sector to create and implement all initiatives, HME has been active in strengthening medical training programs and building infrastructure for sustainable progress to the medical education system.
We believe that through our collaborations with Haitian medical professionals and policymakers to assess current programs and enact changes in medical education, we can ensure that Haitian doctors become empowered to heal their patients while participating in a supportive global medical community. We are in dire need for invaluable support toward meeting our goals of improving educational resources to our partner sites in Haiti, standardizing CME on a national level and continuing the fostering of professional relationships between Haitian and international doctors.
This quote from the Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat resonates with our approach to our work:
"We sometimes use other people’s pain to make ourselves feel more whole. Sometimes you see a lack of self questioning in people who go to places like Haiti to ‘help’. They are helping so what does it matter, folks say. But it does matter whether you’re treating the people you’re helping as equals, as human beings. They may be good, bad or indifferent, but they are human beings. I think this understanding is essential… No one is a total victim or a total saviour."
– Granta Magazine, July 2011
Our partners in Haiti are our teachers at least as much as we teach them. They are our saviors at least as much as we save them. We are equals and colleagues.