During the first week of March 2020, just months after Hurricane Dorian tore across the Bahamian islands, 14 Barry University students, professors, and affiliated volunteers brought much-needed aid to nearly 700 of the storm’s victims. Led by Dr. Shanika Hill, Associate Dean of Clinical Education at the School of Podiatry, the team of doctors and medical students collaborated with the Ministry of Health and the Bahamas Podiatric Medical Association (BPMA) to host free clinics throughout New Providence, the country’s most populous island. “Our goal was to see as many people who needed us in the time allotted,” said Dr. Hill.
To accomplish that goal, she coordinated the mission trip with the help of friend and fellow Barry University graduate Dr. Monique Mitchell, Director of Podiatry at Bahamas Surgical Associates Center. Together, they joined forces with BPMA president Dr. Danny Johnson, who was particularly focused on providing continued care for diabetic patients amid the storm’s devastation. Statistically, more than half of Bahamian diabetics who endure amputations die within five years; so, saving limbs through education and diabetes and hypertension screenings, as well as providing wound care, was essential. To best aid Dr. Johnson’s efforts, Dr. Hill planned the week-long mission during Barry’s spring break, enabling the participation of podiatry faculty and students.
Also eager to join Dr. Hill’s efforts were several physician assistant students in Barry’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, including Gabrielle Temple, then in her second year. Temple had recently launched a fundraiser to build medical relief kits for the Bahamas through her role as class representative for the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Along with her PA classmates, Temple, who will graduate this year, had already raised more than $2,000, which she used to purchase medical supplies for the kits. “After a few colleagues and I spent days shopping around for the supplies and putting together the kits, we were offered an opportunity to actually go and deliver them ourselves as well as partner with Dr. Hill and Barry’s School of Podiatry to provide medical relief,” said Temple. Inspired by the efforts of Dr. Hill and her team, Temple quickly signed up to join them, as did her PA classmate Julie Gruszczynski. Dr. Tony Umadhay, Associate Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, also joined the trip to oversee the PA students and lend critical support as a nurse anesthetist.
With Barry’s School of Podiatry and College of Nursing and Health Sciences represented, Dr. Hill’s team was able to engage the Bahamian community of New Providence at multiple levels. Beginning with two days of outreach events that included health screenings, diabetic education, wound care, healthy eating tips, and cooking demonstrations, the week-long mission trip served as both a healthcare initiation and critical intervention point for many patients. Those who required them were also granted free follow-up visits throughout the week, as the team traveled to clinics across the island providing care. At every juncture, Barry’s podiatry and PA students were able to expand their clinical skills while aiding those most vulnerable to podiatric ailments. “The trip took our students’ learning outside of the four corners of our classroom by making meaningful connections with the real world,” said Dr. Umadhay.
For both Julie Gruszczynski and Gabrielle Temple, working directly with Podiatry students and faculty was exciting and educational. “I am a big fan of interdisciplinary studies,” said Temple. “We really can learn so much from each other, and in the end, we are always a team no matter our profession and are ultimately there for the patient.” Gruszczynski agrees. “The members in the group I traveled with were from various fields of medicine — podiatrists and podiatry students, nurse anesthetists, and physician assistant students,” she said. “I wanted to learn from my fellow volunteers through their aspect of patient care.”
This kind of interdepartmental alliance is a hallmark of Barry’s medical training, as it mirrors real-world clinical settings and optimizes patient care. For the Barry students and faculty who lent their time, skills, and compassion to the people of the Bahamas, such collaboration was the key to treating as many patients as possible in a region that was desperate for medical relief. “Our greatest accomplishments,” said Dr. Hill, “were that we were able to treat hundreds of patients, to build wonderful relationships between Barry University School of Podiatric Medicine and the doctors and nurses of the Bahamas that shared the space with us, and to further the potential for greater access to podiatric medical and wound care for the people of the Bahamas in the future.”