J-Term Report: Emergency Preparedness in the Caribbean

Dr. Marcus Martin, interim vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity and professor of emergency medicine, led 20 U.Va. students to St. Kitts and Nevis for a J-Term course on “Health Care and Disaster Preparedness in the West Indies.” Here’s his report:

Our students learned the fundamentals of emergency care and disaster preparedness through a series of lectures, direct observations, skills modules and exploration of the preparedness infrastructure currently existing in the small developing federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

And the students had two real-life encounters with the importance of disaster preparedness and response in the Caribbean and West Indies. One, of course, was the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12 causing us to pause, helpless, and reflect on the reality of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The other was a volcanic eruption on nearby Montserrat, which sent a cloud of ash our way thick enough to cause airline cancellations . (We all returned home safely.)

The U.Va. contingent arrived in St. Kitts on Jan. 2, just in time for the “Last Lap” of Carnival, the annual holiday celebration and cultural extravaganza and a great beginning to the week.

The students were nursing, pre-med, engineering, anthropology, interdisciplinary studies and psychology majors. The course was designed to be of value to students of all majors and included a mass-casualty drill with a focus on triage, a scavenger hunt for items needed to survive during a disaster, teamwork and debriefings at the end of each day.

The week was jam-packed with meetings with officials from the ministries of Health and Culture, emergency management, hospitals and the local community. The course ended with a community service project at the Joseph N. France Hospital, where students painted and spiffed up the children’s playground area.

We also visited an old British fort, “Brimstone Hill” now a World Heritage Site designation, and Romney Manor, formerly Wingfield Estate, the home of – and here’s a U.Va. connection! – Thomas Jefferson’s great-great grandfather, Sam Jefferson.

“Never have I learned so much in just two weeks,” Hunter Reed, a fourth-year anthropology student in the College of Arts & Sciences, told me later. “St. Kitts now feels like a second home and I would highly recommend this class to all students, not just those in the medical field.”

And Jennifer L. Jamison-Gines, a nursing graduate student, said, “We even learned from a local bush doctor about complementary medical practices commonly used in the islands.”

Caitlin Burchfield, a third-year nursing student, added: “This study abroad experience introduced new ideas to my world perspective as well as reaffirmed personal perceptions of how the American health care system contrasts and compares to others.”

Many thanks to the U.Va. faculty and faculty associated with the International University of Nursing, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and other health care professionals in a non-traditional learning environment.

U.Va. faculty who helped lead the group were Dr. Bill Brady, vice chair of emergency medicine; Audrey Snyder, assistant professor in the School of Nursing; Elizabeth Wright, Medical Simulations Center director of operations; and Kostas Alibertis, emergency preparedness and response coordinator with the Center for Emergency Management at the U.Va. Health System.

2 Comments on “J-Term Report: Emergency Preparedness in the Caribbean

  1. Wow, what a great experience for these young people! This was a great story. Thank you so much for posting!

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