Haiti: Global health crisis

Helping Haiti improve health care inspires undergraduate research and electronic solutions

Follow Susan Gawlowicz on Twitter
Follow RITNEWS on Twitter

John B. Oliphant

Physician assistant student Rachel Triassi examines a sick Haitian boy under the supervision of Dr. Ken Williams, center.

Rachel Triassi will never forget the people she met at a community medical clinic in Jacmel, Haiti, or their incomplete medical records that reflect the nation’s fragmented health care.

Triassi, a fourth-year student in the physician assistant BS/MS program, is developing a template for an electronic medical health record and medical formulary, a list of available medications, to improve the quality and efficiency of health care in Jacmel.

She saw the need firsthand during spring break. Triassi and four students from her cohort volunteered at the clinic. The vague health records and limited medical supplies at the clinic gave them a glimpse of a different health-care reality.

The students’ introduction to global health was also their first time working as part of a supervised patient care team in an international setting. They worked under the supervision of certified physician assistants Courtney Shores and John Oliphant, assistant professor in RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology, and Dr. Ken Williams, who accompanied his daughter, Alix, a fourth-year physician assistant student. The hands-on experience the students gained anticipates the clinical rotations in their fifth and final year of the program.

The week in Haiti was life changing for Triassi and her team.

“The perspective change that I had there sat with me because I had done something I had always wanted to do,” Triassi said. “We are so blessed here with everything we have. To share a piece of knowledge and our resources has been something I enjoyed doing.”

The volunteer opportunity came through Oliphant’s involvement with global-health initiatives. He is the director of medical and dental operations for Restore Haiti, a Nashville-based organization, which partners with Restoration Ministries in the Caribbean nation. His recent trips to Haiti, and also to Liberia, have inspired his students to “get engaged globally.”

Oliphant is the College of Health Sciences and Technology representative on the Academic Senate’s Global Education Task Force and represented the college on the Global Engagement and International Education dimension task force that developed recommendations for the 2025 Strategic Plan.

“It’s part of the emerging DNA of RIT to have more international opportunities,” Oliphant said. “It’s a growing interest and request of our students. They are clambering for international rotations.”

Triassi’s impulse to make the trip gave her exposure to the culture of a developing nation and a population with minimal access to health care. She saw patients suffering from untreated Type 2 Diabetes, measles, fungal infections, intestinal worms and malnutrition.

“When we got there I just had the feeling of how do people live this way?” Triassi said. “But then you see how joyful and happy they are and how they appreciate everything. And then I look back on our society and we have everything at our fingertips and yet people are so miserable.”

Triassi presented the results of her project, funded by a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, at the RIT Undergraduate Research Symposium on Aug. 8. Her research pushed forward the development of a standard health history form and a corresponding medical formulary listing medicines to keep in stock for treating common ailments seen at the Jacmel clinic. She also compared the diagnosis of conditions of Haitian children with that of their American counterparts.

Her research built on the work student Alix Williams began last year, also under a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Triassi refined the project’s scope and collaborated with Craig Mason, an information technology student, who will further develop the electronic medical record as his capstone project.