Most U.S. medical schools have programs in international health, but there is a need to find ways to make students (particularly those with little clinical experience) more effective volunteers in international settings. The Department of Family Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine developed a program to help prepare students for international work and to ensure that the work they do makes a difference. Over the past four years, this program, Project Medishare, has sent groups of students to Haiti to conduct health fairs. Students prepare all year for their voluntary trips, which take place during the spring and summer breaks; they learn about Haiti's history, culture, language, and health problems. They also raise funds and donations of medicine and supplies. The health fairs, which are one-day events in orphanages and villages, emphasize patient education and preventive medicine. The success of the fairs is evaluated using testimonials from Haitian officials and patients, students' journals, and data collected by the students. Factors critical to Project Medishare's success include (1) having a “critical mass” of culturally and linguistically competent students and faculty; (2) collaboration with local authorities and providers; (3) advance preparation; and (4) using lessons learned from each event to improve the next.
Dr. Dodard is assistant professor of clinical family medicine; Dr. Vulcain is assistant research professor, and Dr. Fournier is professor of family medicine; all in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Florida.
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr. Dodard, University of Miami School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, P.O. Box 016700 (R700), Miami, FL 33101; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.