New Executive Director of DOCS Promises “A Life of Service” to Underserved

Talk to Rimsky Denis for five minutes, and you can’t help but be moved by his passion. The fourth-year medical student already has dedicated nearly a decade to bettering the lives of medically underserved populations in South Florida and around the world. And now as the first Executive Director of the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS) to hold both an M.B.A. and M.P.H., he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the student-run organization.

“After seeing the impact of providing healthcare to those who would otherwise be helpless, I know this is the type of medical work I want to dedicate my life to,” Denis said as he prepared for the first health fair of the year this weekend. “All the training I received in business school and especially through the master of public health program at the Miller School has prepared me for this moment.”

High on his list of priorities is instituting referral and follow-up and community advisory teams for the free DOCS health fairs and clinics students have operated across South Florida for more than four decades under the supervision of Miller School faculty.

“Follow-up is extremely important, because the goal is to make sure there is continuity of care,” said Denis, who was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital to Haitian parents and raised in Miami. “If we aren’t getting patients the proper care on a continuing basis after screening, then what we are doing is futile.”

Under Denis’ leadership, third-year student Anne Kimbal teamed up with classmates to develop the DOCS Referral and Follow-Up Team. Made up of medical students, the team’s sole purpose is to identify high-risk patients and create a pool of resources to help them enroll in the healthcare system, find nearby facilities where they can receive comprehensive care, and reduce medical costs associated with follow-up visits.

To strengthen community relationships, Denis also is overseeing the formation of a community advisory team composed of key stakeholders from each community served by DOCS.

“By collaborating with community advocates all year round, we can gather valuable information regarding the specific needs of each community, as opposed to simply showing up once a year,” Denis explained. “These partnerships are essential to ensure we are prepared to provide the most appropriate services at any given health fair.”

DOCS also is re-establishing its presence in Palm Beach County, starting with the appointment of six new executive members from the M.D./M.P.H. class at the Miller School’s Regional Campus. Over the next year, the newly minted executive board members will conduct a needs assessment to determine how DOCS can be as effective in Palm Beach County as it is in Miami, establish partnerships with area healthcare organizations, and re-introduce the organization’s health fairs and student-run clinic.

“I’m excited to see these changes get implemented, to work with the incoming freshmen, and begin a new culture of synergies throughout the organization,” said Denis, who also hopes to attract more of the financial support needed to make these initiatives a success. “Our DOCS online donation system has not been used to its fullest potential. I want to change that by getting the word out about the great need that exists in our communities.”

Denis will get to see the initiatives come to fruition at DOCS’ October 5 health fair in Hialeah, which will be held at the West Hialeah Baptist Church. He and fellow DOCS volunteers also will be out in full force on October 26 for the ever-popular Little Haiti Health Fair, now in its 19th year, which is expected to draw more than 200 community residents for blood glucose, cholesterol and lipids screenings, vision assessments, STD and HIV tests, and dermatologic and mental health screenings.

The second of nine fairs DOCS will hold across South Florida in 2013-2014, Little Haiti’s also stands out for its permanent home at the Center for Haitian Studies, where community residents can receive primary care services.

“Rimsky is a remarkable young man,” said DOCS faculty adviser Mark O’Connell, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Educational Development and the Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education. “He possesses a passion and energy that truly inspires those around him to commit and achieve. DOCS is fortunate to have him as our Executive Director this year, and I have no doubt that under Rimsky’s leadership, he and his team will make significant improvements in the services and programs that DOCS brings to our underserved communities.”

Given his heritage and ties to Miami’s Haitian community, Denis has a special connection – and is a great asset – to the fair in Little Haiti. Fluent in Haitian-Creole, he is a strong advocate for the Haitian community. In addition to the underserved population in South Florida, he has seen firsthand the desperate need for modernized healthcare in Haiti.

Just two weeks before the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that devastated the capital of Port-au-Prince, Denis was in Haiti on a Project Medishare medical mission led by Arthur Fournier, M.D., retired professor and vice chair of family medicine and community health, who for decades has brought primary healthcare to the region.

Denis recalls how on that trip, he saw his future.

“Hurry, get ready to jump out!” Denis still remembers Fournier shouting as they traversed the treacherous terrain of Haiti’s central plateau by Jeep. All eight passengers leaped out, pushing the Jeep up the slippery mountain, and hoping their efforts would be enough to reach the people on the other side in dire need of medical attention.

Etched in his mind are the bare makeshift clinics and the hundreds of people waiting for the chance to see a doctor. It was during that trip Denis says he realized what it truly meant to be a physician and that global health was undeniably his calling.

Drawn eternally back to Haiti, Denis applied for and received a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Hubert Global Health Fellowship to develop a protocol for bacterial meningitis screening and collect data to establish a baseline for treatment and prevention after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Deschapelle, Saint-Marc, and Cap-Haitien.

Eager to apply the skills he has learned through these life experiences, Denis, who also took part in medical missions to Nicaragua, India, Ghana, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo, regards the opportunity to serve as Executive Director of DOCS during his last year of medical school as an important milestone that will indelibly shape both his career and the organization.

“I look forward to sharing all the experience I have gained over the years to benefit an amazing organization like DOCS,” Denis said. “My passion for medicine is only equaled by my desire to pursue a life of service to others.”

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