Medical students provide access to basic healthcare

One of the things that has struck medical students working as volunteers in communities after Hurricane Maria is the importance of emotional wellbeing among the hundreds of patients tended to in community outreach clinics organized by the Universidad Central del Caribe.

A third-year medical student who heads the volunteer group Medicina Urbana, Gabriel Colón, said that the largest difference he noticed in patients participating in the outreach clinics before and after the hurricane was the state of their emotional health.  Depression and anxiety could always be found as conditions present when they conducted outreach health clinics, yet Gabriel believes “it has been exacerbated.”

“One of the most pressing needs (they have) is the need to talk and be heard,” said Jorge Irizarry, vice-president of Medicina Urbana.

Since Hurricane María, the group has held clinics in which 2,500 patients participated as well as volunteer medical students.  After the University received the grant money from Unidos por Puerto Rico, it was able to buy additional equipment, such as glucometers, cholesterol kits, stethoscopes and others as well as provide a stipend for gas for participating students who would venture to communities in the mountains and elsewhere.

“The (Unidos) grant served to strengthen the community service component that has always been part of UCC,” said Dr. Waleska Crespo, president of the school. With the grant funds, more students could provide service to a larger number of patients, simultaneously, because they did not have to wait to use the medical equipment, explained Mildred Rivera Marrero, Dean of Institutional Development.  After they received the funds in August of 2018, they were able to provide basic medical service to 937 patients.

Also, the students expanded their outreach clinics, from urban settings to communities in the mountains where there was great difficulty in reaching doctors after the disaster.  “Access (to healthcare) became an important issue,” said Gabriel.  The group plans to continue providing medical service to these underserved communities.

Another important component of the program, which received a grant of $50,303.23 from Unidos por Puerto Rico, is that it developed a system which could facilitate the documentation of the most prevalent diseases in the communities they serve. Gabriel explained that this data will help them provide more targeted help in future clinics. If there is a prevalence of mental health issues, they could bring in psychologists or psychiatrists, he said. So far, they have identified three main health issues, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and depression (especially post-Hurricane Maria).

Based on the information collected, they saw the need to organize jointly with a clinical laboratory a clinic whose focus will be measuring the glycemic index of patients, an expensive test that provides a much better indicator of adherence to medication and to diet.  This index is an important tool for physicians as it helps them to develop better treatment plans for their patients.  The clinic is in the planning stages and should be held in February.

For more information on Medicina Urbana please visit their webpage (, email them (, or like their Facebook page (Medicina Urbana). For information on Unidos por Puerto Rico, visit their site:

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