Help students plan their spring break

For Gabriel Foster, the highlight of his first year of medical school was the week he spent on the Dr. Help international health outreach trip in rural Dominican Republic. 

“It’s the best experience of the first year, because you get to apply everything you’ve learned,” said Foster. “The trips kind of keep you going, recharge you and remind you why you got into medicine.” 

This fall, UF College of Medicine students, many of them in their second year, are busy raising funds and awareness for six different international health outreach trips, held during spring break, March 3-10, 2012. 


Dr. Help 

Dr. Help, which travels to rural sites in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, is the largest international health outreach trip at the UF College of Medicine with 43 participants this year. The trip, now in its 15th year, also includes volunteer dentists to provide oral health services. 

Dr. Help aims to raise $35,000 this year for the trip, to cover travel expenses and supplies. It will hold about a dozen fundraisers and has already held a few events at local restaurants and bars. A new event this year is an upcoming Oct. 22 soccer tournament. 

The volunteers, comprised of UF physicians, dentists, a nurse, and select medical and pharmacy students, sleep and have their meals at a monastery and set up clinics in churches or people’s houses. 

“It’s an awesome trip — you work hard,” said trip leader Marcos Mills. “We saw 1,600 people last year in five days.” 

Besides helping to treat a range of health problems at the daily clinics, the students also try to focus on public health issues and preventative health. This year, they plan to focus on educating patients about healthy oral hygiene habits and visit a local school to talk to teens about contraception and STDs. 

For more information, visit the Dr. Help website or contact Marcos Mills at

Dr. Salud 

Dr. Salud also is an international health outreach trip to the Dominican Republic, but it travels to the city of San Francisco de Macoris. 

Participants work in conjunction with local medical students from Universidad Catolica Nordestana to provide health care to underserved Dominicans. Approximately five clinics serving more than 500 patients per day are organized during the weeklong trip. 

Trip leader Kevin McCarthy, said 32 people, including medical students, physicians and pharmacy students, will go on the 2012 trip. The goal is to raise $30,000. 

“The money we raise goes to the plane tickets, supplies and medicines, lodging, and transportation,” he said. 

Dr. Salud team members are selling T-shirts and UF Medicine decals to raise funds. For more information, visit the Dr. Salud website or contact Kevin McCarthy at

Project Yucatan 

Project Yucatan, which began in 2003, is an international health outreach trip that travels to several rural villages in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. 

This year 29 medical, pharmacy and physician assistant students and physicians, will work alongside Mexican medical students to provide health care for up to 400 people a day. This is the first time a surgeon will be going on the trip, said Carolyn Zahler. 

“There are several Mexican medical students who live in the Yucatan that work with us when we’re down there too,” said Zahler, one of Project Yucatan’s organizers. “It’s a very interdisciplinary trip.” 

Project Yucatan organizers’ hope to raise $25,000 for the trip by selling sweatshirts, T-shirts and hosting various club nights to raise money. They also plan to hold their annual dinner fundraiser at Las Margaritas later in the year. So far, the group has raised about $3,000. 

For more information, visit the Project Yucatan website or contact Carolyn Zahler at


Project Haiti 

Project Haiti, the oldest international health outreach trip at UF, was first organized by Serge Geffrard, M.D. ’98, and Eloise Harman, M.D., a professor of medicine and chief of critical care services, in 1996. Since then, UF College of Medicine students, faculty and staff have visited Haiti and the Dominican Republic every spring for a week and provided free health care. 

Project Haiti has often traveled to the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic because of UF’s travel restrictions largely due to the unstable political climate and the earthquake devastation. This year, however, the restriction has been lifted so the team will be working in a Haitian city near the border, Fond Parisien. 

“Due to the recent disasters and lack of development, there is a broad range of needs in Haiti,” said Tammy Ju, one of this year’s trip leaders. “This trip brings an integrative team together to serve the people of Haiti and anyone who needs help.” 

This year, the Project Haiti team is learning more about Haitian culture and basic phrases in Creole to become more socially conscious and responsible travelers. 

The team, consisting of 30 students, physicians and pharmacists, has a goal to raise $25,000. They have raised about 30 percent of this goal through the Project Haiti 5K Run. They also hosted a tailgate event to raise funds. 

In January, Project Haiti will auction artwork from Haiti and the Dominican Republic at a gala hosted by Club Creole, the Haitian Student Association at UF. Project Haiti has also partnered with a local coffee company, Sweetwater Organic Coffee, to raise funds. Pounds of different coffee roasts are available for purchase. All proceeds will go toward medical supplies to care for patients in Haiti. 

For more information, visit the Project Haiti website or contact Tammy Ju at

Project HEAL 

Project HEAL, an interdisciplinary team of UF health care students and professionals, has been providing care to rural and indigenous Ecuadorean villages since 2002. HEAL is an acronym for Health, Education and Learning which embodies the philosophy of the team’s mission to identify public health concerns, to educate people in preventative practices, and to provide care for underserved Ecuadorians. 

“Our hope is to provide continuous care,” said Heather Applewhite, one of the 2012 trip leaders. “We visit the same site every year to establish contact locally in order to sustain what we do even after we leave.” 

Currently, Project HEAL has two ongoing fundraisers. The team sells different items that are brought back from Ecuador every other week at the Haile Village Farmers’ Market. Supporters can also find Project HEAL members in front of the Emerson Alumni Hall before football games, handing out colored bead necklaces for donation. 

This year, Project HEAL is hosting a new fundraiser event in November at Gainesville’s annual Downtown Festival & Art Show, featuring Ecuadorean merchandise for sale. Visitors can also get basic health screenings provided by Project HEAL members. 

In January, Project HEAL will invite the Gainesville community to participate in the 5K for HEALing event. The team’s goal is to raise $30,000. So far, approximately 10 percent of the goal has been met. 

“Ecuador is farther away than some of the other international trips,” said Kim Le, another trip leader. “It has less international support because of the distance and we believe our service will leave a greater impact.” 

For more information, visit the Project HEAL website or contact Kim Le at

Project Thailand 

In 2004, an Australian couple, who established a school in northern Thailand for the Akha tribe children, contacted a team of UF physicians who were in Thailand to provide humanitarian relief after the tsunami. Since then, physicians and medical students have traveled to Thailand to provide health care. Project Thailand officially became one of the international health outreach trips in 2009. 

As the youngest international health outreach trip, Project Thailand primarily provides care to a pediatric population, said Ross Harrison, this year’s trip leader. 

“There are many opportunities to grow and develop the trip,” Harrison said. “It’s exciting to be a part of that process.” 

This year, the team has grown to include nearly 30 medical students, physicians and dental residents participating in the trip. Financially, Project Thailand wishes to raise around $20,000 through various fundraising events. 

For the first time, Project Thailand members organized a 5K run event, which had 150 participants and community sponsors. They have also hosted social events and campaigns to raise more funds. 

On Nov. 20, Project Thailand will host one of its biggest fundraising events — a golf tournament at the Haile Plantation Country Club, sponsored by local businesses. Members of the community are invited to form teams and participate. 

For more information, visit Project Thailand website or contact Ross Harrison at