Enrich your world: volunteer

Enrich your world: volunteer

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By Katherine Schwenger, with Negar Karimian MSc (MD from Iran) & Saber Ghadakzadeh (MD from Iran)

Volunteering is a unique experience that bridges medical research with practical experience; it provides an opportunity to become involved in health care and conduct research on a global scale. Recently, I had a chance to meet with two students in the Institute of Medical Science (IMS), with a strong passion for international volunteerism. Both Negar Karimian and Saber Ghadakzadeh are originally from Iran, where they were trained as medical doctors. Negar recently completed her MSc and Saber is currently a Master’s student in IMS. They feel an urge to help others across the world and say that “as physicians, we feel responsible to deliver health care to underserved areas on a global scale.” The pair decided to devote their time to volunteer efforts in Honduras—a region with one of the greatest health care needs worldwide.

Through the Honduras consulate in Montreal and an active non-government organization in the region, a ten-day trip to two rural communities, with six days of mobile clinics, was organized (August 2013). Both Negar and Saber were excited about the potential to return to a clinical setting. “We really missed practice,” they revealed.

While in rural Honduras, they performed two emergency outpatient surgeries. Without these procedures, patients would have faced serious complications. During the six clinic days they worked with local staff, including two physicians and a dentist, visiting a total of approximately 1 800 patients. “Working with local physicians who were more experienced with the region-specific health conditions was great,” Negar and Saber recalled.

Reflecting on their trip, they felt that collaborative efforts between local universities and one like University of Toronto are extremely important. Negar and Saber described collaboration as “the most efficient and sustainable approach” towards overcoming obstacles and difficulties in health care. When asked about the role of such trips in solidifying the importance of translational research, they stated that collaboration would help with knowledge transfer, so that local medical professionals could better treat their patients, as well as facilitate research in different areas, including epidemiological studies. It is important to understand that in order to better facilitate collaborations with these countries, their local and international resources must be better connected. As the students described, “gaining a better understanding of disease by studying different populations is a crucial step in translational research.” In order to promote sustainability, Saber and Negar felt that local and international health care professionals must establish programs through universities to educate regional and local healthcare workers and patients. These various levels of health care professionals (nurses, community workers, etc.) would help detect and treat diseases early on and would also contribute to data collection for epidemiological studies.

For Negar and Saber, this ten-day volunteer trip to Honduras was an amazing experience. Although several MDs are involved in research programs at IMS, such an undertaking is not limited to students in their situation. “It can be a life changing experience for students from any background,” they stated. Without question, they would recommend volunteering to their colleagues from any educational background. They also support the idea of initiating collaborative research and training programs between IMS faculty and faculty from local universities. When asked if they had any trips planned for the future, Negar and Saber responded, “We have yet to confirm our next destination, but we are certainly going to continue our contribution to these underserved communities.”

Negar and Saber would like to thank all their friends and family members who sponsored their last trip. “Our financial supporters brought smiles to many faces that deserved them,” they said in appreciation of their sponsors.