Medical students travel to Ecuador to help with emergent care

Second-year VCU medical student Elissa Trieu (right) helps suture an emergency room patient in Ecuador with an Ecuadorian hospital official.

Second-year VCU medical student Elissa Trieu (right) helps suture an emergency room patient in Ecuador with an Ecuadorian hospital official.

When dialing 911 in the United States, callers might easily assume a dispatcher can relay their needs to the appropriate responder, whether it is firefighters or the paramedics. But in Ecuador, it is not always that simple.

From June 27 to July 19 members of the VCU Health International Trauma System Development Program traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador to help enhance the country’s coordination between firefighters, ambulances, 911 call centers and hospitals. The work was part of a series of projects to determine why there is a breakdown in Ecuador’s pre-hospital communication, which starts when a person seeking emergency help contacts authorities and ends when they arrive at a hospital.

Mark Hopkins, a second-year student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, was one of three medical students who traveled to Ecuador with School of Medicine faculty. Though public health care is free in Ecuador, high patient volume and a lack of resources and proper education dilute the quality of that care, he said.

“Since we were kids, we’ve known there is one number to call [for medical help] and we know we can trust whoever shows up on our doorstep to be trained and qualified,” Hopkins said. “We have jobs solely dedicated in the hospital to making sure the right information comes through. In Ecuador, they are trying to replicate that system. That’s where we want to help.”

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