A group of medical students from St. George’s University (SGU), based in the Caribbean island of Grenada in the West Indies, decided to give back to the land that allowed them to make their dream of becoming a doctor come true.
They managed to ship a boat containing nearly $400,000 worth of medical and surgical supplies to the Grenada General Hospital. Those students belong to the International Student Surgical Network-InciSioN, a network bringing together medical students and young doctors from more than 50 countries. As a co-chair of this network, I was a lucky witness of their story. I have interviewed some of the main characters so that you can hear the story from them, just like I did.
Zineb Bentounsi : Hi Josh, Amanda and Kathy. So you all are medical students at St.George’s University, aren’t you?
Katayoun Seyedmadani (Kathy): Yes! Josh and I are already doing clinical rotations in the US while Amanda is still based in Grenada. Usually, students come from USA and UK to study the first 2 years (out of 4) of medical school in Grenada and then go back to those countries for 2 other years of clinical rotations as the island’s hospital can’t accommodate all the students.
Zineb: Actually, can you tell us more about the healthcare facilities in Grenada?
Kathy: Grenada is a beautiful Caribbean Island that is considered middle income by the World Bank. However, in terms of delivery of surgical care, the island is very underserved. Grenada General Hospital serves the population of over 100,000 people with 5 functional operating rooms. One is reserved for ophthalmology, one for obstetrics, and the remaining 3 are used for all other surgical procedures. There are 5 general surgeons and 4 anesthesiologists who work so hard and with great outcomes in the face of shortage of supplies and devices. When we started our global surgery group (SGU Global Surgery), we began our work by trying to evaluate the status of surgical care on the island. In spring 2016 we visited the hospital and met with the medical director, Dr. Kester Dragon, who is an orthopedic surgeon to gather more information. We were quite surprised to find out just how underserved the island was.
Zineb: And here you began to think about potential solutions…
Joshua Carlson: Indeed. While we were thinking, a great opportunity came to me. I received an email to meet with the CEO of Project Cure, Doug Jackson, in Washington, D.C. I received this email because I had previously been involved with Project Cure during the Nepal earthquake in 2015. I was going to ignore the email but then sent it to my colleague Gene Deems with whom I had started to form the charity Medicine with a Mission, who immediately told me that I should go. Long story short, I, a lowly medical student, went to meet the CEO of one of the world’s largest and most known humanitarian groups! In our conversation and the many others that followed, I explained to him our idea to bring some surgical and medical supplies to Grenada and it turned out that he wanted to be on board! After that I was in touch with Gosia Betencourt and Michael Fry who coordinated the project with us.
Kathy: It was perfect timing.
Josh: Indeed. I knew in my heart, that it was God’s Plan for me to meet him in order to start this project and give back to the people in Grenada after being there for nearly 2.5 years.
Zineb: So after having the support from Project Cure, how did you transform your idea into a project?
Kathy: This took 2 years of preparation and fundraising. We had a meeting with Project Cure first to understand the process of ordering the cargo and the associated costs. On the island we went back to the medical director of the hospital to see if they were interested in such aid, and what their needs were. Once we had green light from the hospital our students from SGU Global Surgery began heavily fundraising for the $20,000 cost.
Zineb: That is what you have been doing Amanda right?
Amanda Hughes: Yes, since I got involved in 2017. When Kathy had to leave the island, I stepped into her role as VP of External Affairs. At that point, the previous team had already secured $10,000. Myself and Jana DeJesus, who serves as VP of Internal Affairs worked closely together to raise the remaining funds within the SGU community.
I became the contact for any external organizations on the island including SGU administration, Grenada General Hospital and the Ministry of Health. I’ve worked closely with them to finalize details of the project. One of the major tasks I tackled was working with Dr. Terron Hosten, a general surgeon from Grenada General Hospital to create the manifest of supplies needed at the hospital. Now that the supplies are en route, Jana and I are working with SGU and the Ministry of Health to make sure everything is in order for their arrival.
From left to right: Jana, Amanda and Dr Hosten
Zineb: Impressive! I just want to do the counts again and really understand how your fundraising worked…
Josh: So the first $10,000 were given by both Medicine with a Mission and D’Amore Personal Injury Law, LLC.
Amanda: And the other $10,000 were collected under Kathy’s term and mine by our student group, with efforts of our entire board especially our advocacy arm lead by Daniel Tadros. We had generous contributions from several other SGU student organizations.
Kathy: Indeed, we had all sorts of contributions. The funniest one was a 28” television that was donated by SGU Clinical Skills Department and was raffled off at the Fall 2017 Pong Tournament. Students held various fundraisers from selling crush cans for Valentine’s Day to reaching out to other student organizations and asking them to join us for support. Our VPI Ruby Vassar and I presented at our student government meeting and they actually donated 1/5 of their budget to the cargo. This way the cargo became a campus-wide labor of love.
Zineb: Now that we talked about how the project became a reality, let’s talk about your personal experiences with this adventure. What was the most challenging obstacle that you had to overcome?
Amanda: It is always difficult learning the ins and outs of a new culture. One of the challenging aspects of this project was learning to navigate the Grenadian healthcare system. There was a bit of an adjustment period for me to really feel comfortable and confident reaching out to Grenadian physicians and Ministry of Health officials. However, we have been helped by our advisor, Dr. Subbarao, the school’s vice provost, Mr. LaGrenade, and provost, Dr. Childers.
Kathy: The challenge was to build trust! I learned that even with the best intentions you have to first stop and learn about the culture from people, then understand their needs and wants before you jump in trying to offer help. Coming from US we were used to a different system and different timelines. We had to learn and adapt to the local flow of things. Here we were a group of medical students who were offering to do a project that is the largest philanthropic effort on our campus to this date, and speaking of bringing in a new OR and ICU, but what rapport did we have to show that we actually can deliver something like that? Underserved communities have unfortunately seen their fair share of medical dumping and aid that did not deliver what it promised etc. We built trust by striving to being always professional, always prepared, always transparent, and always keeping our focus on the goal of this project which is better surgical care for people of Grenada.
Josh: The most difficult thing I faced was having to constantly try to keep the faith, hope, and inspire the group and myself during the 1.5 year period that we tried to raise the money. We had so much momentum in the beginning, but seemed to hit one road bump after another, however I knew and believed it was going to come true. Of course there were times of doubts, but we had to keep believing and pushing forward. Students were raising money at the school and we couldn’t believe how they raised nearly $10,000 while being in medical school. This continued to inspire everyone to keep pushing forward, despite any shortcomings – and look! It all worked out for good in the end.
Kathy and Josh
Zineb: Congratulations! Your story is really inspiring. Can you tell us what are the next steps now? As we are speaking the cargo in en route and should arrive on April 3rd to Grenada. What will happen then?
Josh: We just had a meeting with most parties involved, and need to delineate where each other supplies will go, barcode tag the supplies, make sure everything is in working order, and then make sure it will be utilized.
Amanda: Once the cargo arrives we will be tagging larger items and sorting all of the materials to be dispersed. The Ministry of Health will be assisting us with delivery of supplies to targeted destinations. We would like to have students follow up on the supplies in 3, 6, and 12 months to see how they were used and which materials were of the most benefit.
Zineb: Have you thought about the sustainability of the project?
Josh: The most important thing that we want to stress is that this is a short-term initiative with a long-term focus. We are hoping that providing these supplies now will help the people of Grenada who need the care while more sustainable partnerships are formed. InciSioN Grenada will continue to be involved in pushing initiatives on the ground in Grenada and SGU has mentioned that this partnership with Project Cure can be used in the future.
Kathy: We have identified some other possible resources and collaborators that we could work with but this is all still very preliminary. My wish is that we can use this project now as platform to highlight the needs on the island and in the Caribbean region. Grenada is not the only island in the region that is underserved, many are, especially after the recent hurricanes. I am hoping that we can come up with sustainable solutions and help empower the people of Grenada for a better surgical tomorrow.
Zineb: Now, as a final word can you tell me how this project has changed you, on a personal level?
Amanda: I am overjoyed to see our project coming to completion. It is amazing to see what our small group was able to accomplish, and I hope that other students may be inspired by our success to pursue their ideas. The Grenadian community has been wonderful to work with and I can truly say that being a part of this project has been the highlight of my time in Grenada.
Kathy: It was really amazing to be part of such a great team. Our executive board is technically divided between Grenada, US and UK, but anytime we needed a decision, it took us under 5 hours to rally everyone. From emotional support to workload support this has been such a beautiful team effort, and I truly could not have wished for a better group of passionate friends to work with. I truly wish to be able to continue on this road, I hope to become a surgeon and have the opportunity to serve those in need. My goal is to remain active in global surgery, and someday travel on surgical missions.
Josh: I am so thankful to be a part of this incredible adventure, with the most incredible people – to be a part of something that is able to contribute to helping lives. All the glory goes to God for helping the people of Grenada with the connections and abilities we have been given.
I would like to thank Amanda, Kathy and Josh for the time they took to answer my questions. Their story illustrates once again how students can move mountains when it comes to improving surgical care. It also shows how team work, personal dedication, faith and hope can all come together to bring success. Behind those three people, there is an entire team of students who was involved. We would like to thank Ruby Vassar, Daniel Tadros, Belal Noureddine, Gabe Lavespeare, Jana De Jesus and all other members of the team.