Earlier this year, National University naturopathic medicine student, Tawainna Houston, travelled to Haiti with the organization Naturopaths Without Borders. In Haiti, she spent 10 days in an impoverished area working in a community clinic specializing in women’s health. Several weeks after her return, she gave a presentation to the NUHS Public Health Club about her experiences, sharing photos of her time at the Haitian clinic.
“It was an incredible opportunity to build my confidence as a future doctor and to merge what I’m learning in classroom with actual hands-on experience,” says Tawainna, currently in her seventh trimester at NUHS. “Learning about various pathologies in the classroom is very different than actually putting a person’s face and life experience together with that pathology.”
Tawainna worked at the “Mama Baby Haiti” clinic in a suburb of Cap-Haitien. She and three other ND students, along with their clinician, lived in a hostel upstairs from the clinic.
During the typical workday, Tawainna would see a wide range of health conditions. “We saw a lot of fungal vaginal infections, musculoskeletal conditions from physical labor, dermatological conditions, and a lot of gastrointestinal conditions,” she says. “I felt like I was adequately prepared with my naturopathic classes from National -particularly my Applied Clinical Theory course. That really helped in terms of history taking, differential diagnosis and treatment, and allowed me to understand a case from a naturopathic medicine perspective.”
The trip had a few special highlights for Tawainna: “Since the clinic provided midwifery, I and each of the other interns had the experience of observing and assisting a few childbirths during our stay.”
The regional economy was astoundingly poor by American standards. “They were in the process of building more wells for better quality drinking water. But what you’d see at the clinic were people who previously had been forced to make very hard choices in health care. We saw a mother who’s limited funds previously forced her to choose between treating her own illness or her baby’s illness.”
At the Mama Baby Haiti clinic, there is no fee for patients. The clinic receives donations from various nutraceutical companies, and from an MD for various medical supplies. Nevertheless, volunteers like Tawainna were encouraged to bring as many supplies as they could. Tawainna reached out to a group of physicians she knew who were able to donate certain items.
Tawainna hopes to do at least one more international service trip before she graduates – perhaps to Kenya through the Naturopathic Medical Students Association. “I like the work because it calls me to a higher sense of responsibility. People are looking to you for answers to real life problems. It’s an opportunity to truly appreciate what it really means to be a physician.”