RIT Physician Assistant Alumni Make their Mark in Haiti

Terri Ragin ’05, John Oliphant, and Samantha Whalen '12 on their recent medical mission trip to Haiti in August.

Rachel Triassi '15, Dr. Ken Williams, an interpreter, and Alix Williams '16 screen a patient in Haiti.

Restore Haiti group on a medical mission in July 2015. RIT alumni pictured: Sarah Sampson '14, Ryan Lester '09, Samantha Whalen '12, Guerin Gagliastri '14, John Oliphant (RIT faculty), Katrina LaBate '10, Bailee Dunshie '10, Julie Rubin '14.



This past August, alumnae from RIT’s physician assistant program shared their time and talents with patients and medical professionals in Haiti by volunteering with Restore Haiti, a non-profit organization providing support to the country.

Terri Ragin ’05 and Samantha Whalen ’12 not only treated patients, but also trained Haitian medical professionals and provided community health education in the areas of diabetes, hypertension, and women’s health.

These are not the first RIT alumni to work with Restore Haiti as alumni and students have been volunteering with the organization since 2013. Led by RIT Assistant Professor John Oliphant, who also oversees Restore Haiti’s medical and dental operations, RIT alumni have been providing medical care to patients in Jacmel and Carrefour, Haiti, while also training local medical professionals in areas such as first aid, suturing, splinting, and dental treatment. In addition to providing care and training, they have helped establish a Community Health Assistant training program, as well as begun the initial steps to set up an electronic medical records system.

In the past three years, a total of 15 RIT alumni and students have participated in Restore Haiti medical mission trips.

“It’s amazing for me to have had them as students and then see them practice, along with showing their humanitarian side,” said Oliphant. “They quickly go from my student to my colleague.”

Alix Williams ’16 participated in a mission trip with Restore Haiti as a student and is now practicing emergency medicine at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. While shadowing medical professionals on the trip, she was able to see how she could best hone her skills as a practitioner.

“It helped me learn to pick out little things when meeting a patient,” Williams said. “We had no imaging or testing tools, so we really had to listen to the patient. I learned the patient always has the answer.”

Williams recalled one case, in particular, when the team helped an older woman who had come to the clinic complaining that her feet were burning.

“She told us she thought she had walked through voodoo powder, but after talking with her, we learned it was actually cement powder from ongoing construction near her. I washed her feet and gave her lotion. She was so relieved, she just kept hugging me.”

While Oliphant is proud of the care he and the RIT-trained PAs have been able to provide, he stresses that establishing the Community Health Assistant program and partnering with the local medical professionals is essential in creating a sustainable model for these trips so the team leaves a lasting impact.

“I think of our team as consultants” Oliphant said. “We let the local medical professionals guide us on how we can empower them. I always ask ‘What would you like us to partner on?’”

To learn more about Restore Haiti and its work, visit RestoreHaiti.com.