Published: May 1, 2018

MSU students use spring break to care for patients

Contact(s): Geri Kelley College of Human Medicine office: (616) 233-1678 cell: (616) 350-7976

For many years, third- and fourth-year students in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine have used their spring break to go on medical mission trips all over the world. This year, dozens of first- and second-year students joined them on trips to Haiti and Cuba, as part of the new Shared Discovery Curriculum, which places students in clinical settings a few weeks into their first year.

Jack Wesley, a first-year medical student, said he wasn’t all that worried about giving physical examinations to real patients – checking children’s blood pressure, poking their fingers for blood tests and palpating their abdomens for masses. Nor did he mind spending his spring break in an impoverished country nearly 2,000 miles from home, where he used his newly acquired skills to provide health care for children who otherwise would go without it.

“I honestly felt very prepared,” Wesley said. “If there was anything the College of Human Medicine did well, it was preparing us for the clinical basics.”

He was among 10 first- and second-year students who spent a week in March caring for children in Port au Prince, Haiti, a trip organized by Jeri Kessenich, an MSU associate professor and pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. 

“I had never taken first- and second-year students before,” Kessenich said, adding that he was a little hesitant because of the rugged conditions in Haiti.

This was no spring vacation. The students worked hard, providing basic medical care for children at two schools near Port au Prince.

“There are definitely easier places to go,” Kessenich said. “It is chaotic, long work hours. They loved it. They exceeded everyone’s expectations. I see their work ethic. I see their passion. I see their zeal.”

First-year student Osose Oboh and a dozen other medical students carried that same commitment to Cuba, where they cared for adults and children. Oboh’s parents, who emigrated from Nigeria, instilled in her a sense of public service.

“If I had a chance to help someone else, I wanted to do that,” she said.

So she jumped at the chance to accompany Rae Schnuth, MSU assistant dean for curricular projects and director of the college’s Leadership in Medicine for the Underserved program, to Cuba. The trip was organized through First-Hand Aid, a Grand Rapids-based charity that arranges medical trips to the country.

“That was a huge learning experience for us,” Oboh said. “One of my passions is to work in underserved areas and provide that kind of care.”

Even before enrolling in medical school, she had been on mission trips to India, Cambodia and Mexico. She plans on many more.

Kessenich had a message for the students who accompanied her to Haiti.

“I told them that, once they get past the insanity of medical school, I would be a little bird on their shoulder reminding them to give back to their community,” she said.