Blakeley Schiffman, Team Captain
Blakeley grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, New York. She fell in love with medicine at an early age, after undergoing 3 ACL reconstructions before the age of 17. She was drawn to global health during her undergraduate years at Binghamton University, where she embarked on a medical mission trip to Nicaragua. Currently, she is a second year medical student at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, where she became interested in pediatric medicine and cardiology. You will often find her dwelling in a study room with a large hot coffee, avoiding the cold, snowy, and windy weather for which Buffalo is notorious.
Christopher Wood, Team Member
Growing up, Chris had a passion for one thing – playing soccer. As he got older, his work ethic and competitive nature on the soccer field transferred to the study room. His interest in medicine arose, first, from his coursework at Binghamton University, and second, that squirming through countless dark and dusty crawlspaces while working in his family construction business over school breaks just wasn’t cutting it for him. He is currently a Masters Student in the department of Biological Sciences at the University at Buffalo, where he studies cardiovascular pathology, and his goal is to become a physician. Although his years as a competitor are behind him, he continues to enjoy soccer recreationally.
Scroll through your Facebook timeline and you are bound to see a crowdfunding campaign for a student preparing to embark on a medical relief trip. While your immediate thoughts may involve excitement and admiration, the September 2019 issue of the AMA Journal of Ethics serves as a reminder that there is a question of the sustainability of short-term mission trips and even the quality of care provided. Students embarking on short-term medical relief trips have an obligation to analyze the logistics and organization of their trips to maintain the highest quality and most sustainable outlets of care.
One of the best ways to ensure a positive, long-term impact upon a community both domestically and abroad is to ask the community ahead of time what their specific needs are. Unfortunately, this one simple step is massively overlooked, leading to the “white savior” criticism that haunts students and providers in Global Health. Part of the multifaceted “white savior” concept accuses teams of invading a community and enforcing Westernized standards of living upon those who either lack the means to adhere to them, or may not care to attempt adherence due to cultural or religious conflicts of interest.
A team at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences worked with leaders in rural Haiti to inquire what was missing in their access to proper medical care. The Buffalo team soon learned that this community felt geographically isolated from medical professionals. They switched their fundraising focus to spend less on medications and supplies, and purchased two motorbikes to be used by community leaders. The bikes were meant to serve as a means of transporting villagers to doctors, and resources back to the village. The team had a longstanding trusting relationship with this community after years of consecutive trips, validating this decision to increase access to care through these major investments. Instead of arriving in Haiti with a slew of potentially unneeded medications, the team at UB demonstrated that modifying the logistics of short-term mission trips to better fulfill the specific needs of a community will have a lasting impact.
While purchasing motorbikes may not be the sustainable solution for every short-term mission, we can combine this concept of trip customization with patient education for an ideal long standing outcome. When patients feel empowered in knowing the difference between normal bodily functions and pathology, the overall health of communities will improve and serious conditions may be diagnosed and treated earlier. Short-term relief trips can be structured to have education stations or designated health educators meeting with patients while they wait to see providers. As in the trip customization concept, educational efforts should also consider limitations, cultural beliefs, and religious obligations of the communities specifically when making suggestions for lifestyle adjustments. The AMA Journal of Ethics gave the Global Health community a wakeup call this past September, and it is our role especially as students to pave the way for more sustainable and ethical efforts when using our stethoscopes on international soil.