DOCS’ 18th Little Haiti Health Fair Draws Grateful Patients

For most of the Little Haiti Health Fair’s history, Antoine Dorismond’s shop was just up the street, yet the clothing designer never managed to drop in for the free health screenings. Determined not to miss out this year, he was among the few dozen people already in line when the Miller School’s Ryan Dauer arrived at 6 a.m. this past Saturday to ensure the 18th annual student-run fair would open without a hitch three hours later.

“I don’t have health insurance and I know my blood pressure is too high and I eat too much salt,’’ Dorismond, a trim 62-year-old known for “Mr. Karl’s Sportswear,” said hours later, as he made the rounds to the various screening stations set up in the Center for Haitian Studies, Health & Human Services. “So I told my wife, ‘This will be the day.’ It’s a great opportunity.”

For Dauer, a second-year student and project manager of this year’s fair organized by the student-run Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), Dorismond’s presence, and that of more than 200 other community residents who availed themselves of the free health screenings, made all the effort – and the worry – worthwhile.

Thanks to Dauer’s exhaustive checklists and his cadre of DOCS volunteers, including about 70 Creole translators, more than 160 students supervised by more than 40 faculty members and residents registered and interviewed scores of patients, measured their vital signs, took blood samples for glucose, cholesterol and lipids screenings, provided vision, STD and HIV tests, and offered dermatology and mental health screenings.

“I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago because I was worried about the weather,” Dauer said, standing under picture-perfect blue skies in the parking lot, which had been transformed into a patient registration/check-out area. “Happily, the weather cooperated and everything is running smoothly.”

Inside the center, where the screening stations that filled two floors were buzzing with activity, Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., talked with Dauer and other students about the special nature of the DOCS health fairs, which evolved from a fair medical students held in the Florida Keys in 1971.

“It is one of the Miller School’s most unique and best traditions,” the Dean said, adding that he hoped a UM-produced documentary on DOCS that was being filmed Saturday would help spread the tradition to other medical schools.

“It’s really amazing,” the Dean continued. “At other universities it is difficult to recruit faculty to help serve the community. Here you make one phone call and you have 10 faculty, and that reverberates to our students, who are probably the most committed in the nation to their community. If all the schools in the United States were engaging in the same kind of activities, this would be a better world.”

For many of the students, including the executive director of DOCS, senior Stefania Prendes-Alvarez, the opportunity to gain such great hands-on patient experience under the supervision of committed faculty was the Miller School’s biggest draw. “It gives me goose bumps,” Prendes-Alvarez said. “It’s exciting to see all these students here, especially the first years, many of them who, like me, came here because of this.”

The second of nine fairs DOCS will hold across South Florida in 2012-13, Little Haiti’s stands out for many reasons, not least of which is its permanent home. The Center for Haitian Studies at 8260 N.E. 2nd Avenue provides primary care services and can follow up with fair patients whose screenings raised a concern.

“This fair is special because it’s so connected to the community,’’ said DOCS faculty adviser Mark O’Connell, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Educational Development and the Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education. “The Center for Haitian Studies is such an important community resource, and has welcomed us into their facility and into the community. It’s the perfect partner.”

For Philemon Cetoute, who brought his 84-year-old mother to the fair so they could both undergo long-overdue check-ups, the partnership can’t be beat. “It’s a good deal,” Cetoute said. “We get a free check-up and the students get experience so they can be great doctors.”

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