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BCOM Student Explores Social Medicine in Haiti

BCOM student Renan Orellana (far left) with other students who participated in the 2018 social medicine cohort in Haiti.

Second year BCOM student Renan Orellana was selected for the 2018 cohort for EqualHealth’s social medicine course “Socioeconomic Determinates of Health: Beyond the Biomedical Basis of Disease.” The three-week intellectual and cultural exchange took place in Mirebalais, Haiti and brought together health profession students from Haiti, North America, and other countries for an in-depth socio-political analysis of the Haitian healthcare system before and after the devastating 2010 earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic.

EqualHealth is a non-governmental organization that “works with the next generation of health professionals to create a cadre of informed and thoughtful leaders who are equipped to transform the system from within.”

Orellana heard about the program through an email announcement from the American Osteopathic Association. He said, “I was not aware that social medicine existed as a medical specialty prior to attending this course, but my prior professional background in public health has always drawn me to any opportunity that can integrate clinical medicine with the social and economic conditions that affect health, disease, and the practice of medicine.”

The course was taught entirely in French, which Orellana studied in college and continues to practice through books, music, and Duolingo. It was led by an interdisciplinary team of professionals in medicine, public health, nursing, law, social work, politics, and activism, most of whom are Haitian. The cohort participated in site visits to public and private hospitals and healthcare facilities across Haiti and were given opportunities to apply the principles of social medicine to patient care, particularly through narrative medicine.

Orellana said some of his most memorable experiences included interviewing patients in Haitian Creole at the inpatient internal medicine ward at Mirebalais University Hospital and going on a site visit to the American-funded Zanmi Lasante hospital, operated by the Boston-based non-profit Partners in Health (PIH).

“I had previously been exposed to Partners In Health through the biography Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World about PIH’s co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer,” Orellana said. “Throughout the social medicine course, we analyzed the public and private healthcare sectors in Haiti through the lens of social medicine and visited other PIH clinics, but Zanmi Lasante was a unique opportunity for us because it is where PIH was founded as a community-based health project to treat people with HIV/AIDS in rural Haiti.”

Through this experience Orellana also gained information on social internal medicine/primary care residency programs that he is interested in applying to as he know plans to integrate social medicine into his future medical practice.