USF Health students work together to address health needs in Jamaica

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USF College of Public Health students in the International Health Service Collaborative (IHSC), an interdisciplinary mix of USF Health students, faculty and professionals who work to promote health in underserved communities abroad, spent their annual week-long service trip in Jamaica this March.  

This was the first time the group volunteered in Jamaica thanks to the efforts of co-president Natalie Dehaney, a USF College of Pharmacy student from Jamaica, who worked with her father to find clinic space and make arrangements for the group to conduct community health events.

On the first day of their service trip, students focused on pediatrics. Juliana Azeredo and Katelyn Henderson (far left) and other IHSC students teach students at a Rosemount elementary school how to show their USF Bulls pride. (Photo courtesy of Juliana Azeredo)

USF COPH graduate student Juliana Azeredo, a first year student in the MPH program with a concentration in public health education, said COPH students worked with other health students to educate both adults and children on a range of health topics.

The group spent some time at a local school in the Rosemount community educating children on oral health and proper hand washing activities.

Elementary school students in Rosemount learn about proper oral hygiene. (Photo courtesy of Juliana Azeredo)

“Through interactive, child-based activities, the children were able to learn about oral and hand hygiene, nutrition and vector control. We were even able to show them how to represent the USF Bulls,” Azeredo said.

Students also spent time at a local clinic to address health needs of adults, from reviewing their medical history to discussing ways to improve and protect their overall health, according to Azeredo.

When patients would arrive, some students assessed overall health and others would conduct educational trainings ranging from nutrition to preventing pregnancy.

Students saw more than 200 patients, dispensing more than 300 prescription medications and providing both general and specialized care. (Photo courtesy of Juliana Azeredo)

“There was a collaboration of efforts. COPH students helped with triage and physical therapy students helped with public health efforts,” she said. “Everyone had the chance to work together and acquire new skills.”

Azeredo said she joined IHSC because of her desire to help abroad.  

“Without leaving the U.S., it is not possible to fully grasp what the needs are and what is going on in the rest of the world. You must see it and live it, even if just for a week,” she said. “I will always remember the smile on peoples’ faces when they put on a pair of donated glasses and were able to see clearly. It was especially touching when the person receiving a pair of glasses was in their later stages of life and had been living so long without good vision. They would walk around the rest of the day with their new glasses.”

For IHSC co-president Katelyn Henderson, an MPH student focusing on a concentration in epidemiology and global communicable disease and a certificate in infection control, the trip was a hands-on learning experience in cultural competence.

“Learning and applying this aspect of our curriculum to this trip was very beneficial in understanding and helping this community,” she said.

She said the group worked quickly to make adjustments to meet the needs of the community as they visited the clinic.

Katelyn Henderson (far left) Tiffany Gilliard and Derek Erickson conduct sexual and nutrition education, as well as ways to prevent dengue. The group also handed out condoms and prescription eye glasses. (Photo courtesy of Juliana Azeredo)

“Since we are an interdisciplinary organization, we all had the opportunity to see the different sides of the health field and come together as one for the good of the patients,” she said.

Henderson said individuals who visited the clinic left a lasting impact on her.

“Per Jamaican law, patients under 16 could not be seen by a physician without an adult present. Two 15-year-old girls came to our clinic and waited for a long time before we realized they were not of age to be seen by our doctors. They then explained to me that their mom was at work and could not come to the clinic with them,” she said. “They also told me that their father had passed away so they needed to be seen without a parent present. With the permission of a local physician, we were able to give the girls a vision test and get them prescription eye glasses, which was what was most important to them. Their situation was difficult and eye-opening, but it gave me confidence that we were really making a difference for the people of the Rosemount community.” 

Henderson said one of the main goals of this trip was to help the community more than they have ever done during past IHSC trips.

“Continuing to grow the public health aspect of our organization was something that was very important to me, and I feel that we achieved my goal in that,” she said.

For more information on joining IHSC, visit their website. To view more photos of the trip to Jamaica, visit the COPH’s official Instagram page and look for posts shared by Azeredo and Henderson during their takeover of the account.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health