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Medical Volunteers - Frequently Asked Questions

Utila Community Clinic
Utila, The Bay Islands, Honduras. Central America

Medical Student Volunteers
Frequently Asked Questions
(last updated 10-Aug-2006)

  1. Q - Does the Utila Community Clinic accept volunteers?
    A - Yes, but at the discretion of the Doctor in attendance.
  2. Q - Is there a formal Medical Volunteer Program?
    A  - No, not a formal program, but occasionally medical students have volunteered at the Clinic.
  3. Q - I am considering volunteering, what do I need to do?
    A - First read this FAQ and decide if this is really what you want to do.
    The Clinic cannot pay you or provide you with any financial assistance, travel assistance, insurances, meals or lodgings. Volunteers are accepted at the discretion of the Doctor. Normally the Doctor only accepts Medical Students who have completed at least the first 3 years of their training. If you still want to do this, send an email to the Doctor ([email protected]) with details of your personal and medical background, describing why you want to volunteer and for how long you intend to stay in Utila. Those potential volunteers who are scuba divers and have longer medical experience are more likely to be accepted. Remember, as a medical student volunteer you are more likely to increase the Doctor's workload than decrease it.
  4. Q - What is the background of the Utila Community Clinic?
    A - The Utila Community Clinic, a not-for-profit organisation, was originally founded in 1981 by the Methodist Church and Methodist missionaries and is run by a non-denominational board of governors comprised of representatives from the local islander population. The Clinic relies upon benefactors, donated medical supplies and equipment to ensure its continuing operation.
  5. Q - Is this the only medical facility on the island of Utila?
    A - No, there is also;
    (a) a government Health Centre (the Centro de Salud) which has a nursing staff and usually a Honduran or other Spanish speaking Doctor in attendance. However, for various reasons, this facility can go for months without a resident Doctor. The Centro de Salud provides public health (vaccinations, pre-natal & ante-natal care) and general medical care - particularly to the Spanish-only speaking local population. Medications are limited to those provided by the Honduran government and medical equipment is sparse,
    (b) the Utila Hyperbaric Chamber, which also has the island's only X-Ray facility and is staffed by a Honduran nurse, with the Doctor from the Utila Community Clinic being the attending physician.
  6. Q - Do I need to be able to speak Spanish?
    A - No, but it would sure be an advantage.
  7. Q - How is the Utila Community Clinic staffed?
    A - 1 Doctor  (in attendance since Oct 2001), 1 volunteer assistant to the Doctor - since Feb 2002 and 1 Receptionist/Administrator - since 2004.
  8. Q - What are the Clinic Opening Hours?
    A - Mon-Fri 8:00am until 12:00 pm (Sat 9:00am - 11:00pm) The Clinic opens at 8:00am and the Doctor starts work at around 9:00 am. Patients who are not registered with the Receptionist before 11:30am (10:30 am Sat) will not be seen on that day, unless it is an emergency. The Doctor also provides a 24 hour response to medical emergencies.
  9. Q - How many patients attend the Clinic?
    A - The Clinic receives about 10 -15 patients per day of which around 60% are tourists and the remaining 40% come from the local island population of around 2,500 people.
  10. Q - How many patients are treated in the Hyperbaric Chamber?
    A - In 2005, the Utila Hyperbaric Chamber currently averages about 1 patient requiring HBO treatment every 2 - 3 months. (Although in 2003, this number was as high as 1 patient every 8 days). It is impossible to forecast what this number will be in the future, since it relates to several factors.
  11. Q - What hours does a Volunteer work?
    A - Your hours would be what ever you choose them to be, although the Doctor will record and only attest to the hours you were actually present. The Clinic opens at 8:00am and Dr John starts work at around 9:00 am. A patient consultation, discharging and subsequent charting averages around 30-40 minutes per patient, hence a working day can range from 3 to 10 hours, but typically falls somewhere in the middle with "spare time" used to deal with organizational and maintenance issues around the Clinic. After-hours call-outs, (house-calls and emergencies presenting at the Clinic) average around 5 - 8 per week and vary considerable from 30 minutes to 4 hours per call-out.
  12. Q - What would be my role at the Clinic?
    A - Your role would be that of a medical student, to "shadow" Dr John on his consultations with patients and to understand his explanations on how he arrived at his diagnosis and proposed treatment plan. You will be expected to assist the Doctor on surgical procedures, emergencies, and other medically related tasks such as dispensing medications.
  13. Q - What sort of medical experience would I get?
    A - General Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Dive Medicine, some Tropical Medicine.
    A typical day involves providing consultations to tourists either for a Scuba Diving medical certificate, dive medicine related complaints, dermatological complaints, gastro-intestinal complaints, together with a range of other general medical complaints typical of 18-30 year old “back-packing” tourists travelling Central America. The local population (pediatric to geriatric) presents with the broad range of aliments typically found at any primary care physician's office. Occasionally emergencies occur, (averaging 5 - 10 per month), usually trauma and occasionally cardiac or cerebral. Emergencies are usually triaged at the Clinic and subsequently transported to the mainland hospitals. Trauma fatalities do occur, but are rare.
    In summary, you would;
    (a) Gain a basic understanding of the medical systems in under-developed countries, as exemplified by those in Utila, The Bay Islands, Honduras.
    (b) Build upon or develop a Spanish medical vocabulary
    (c) Learn to diagnose and render treatment to patients in an environment with limited laboratory and diagnostic testing facilities, developing your history taking and physical examination skills.
    (d) Gain practical exposure to Tropical Medicine and Diving Medicine.
    (e) Working the only permanent physician serving a medium to large rural/island population and international tourist population - gaining exposure a variety of clinical situations together with the management and maintenance issues associated with operating a small medical clinic.
  14. Q - Who is the Doctor and what are his qualifications/experience?
    A - John Patrick McVay D.O.
    Nationality - USA
    Batchelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy
    Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA
    Graduated 1978
    Doctor of Osteopathy
    University of Health Sciences
    College of Osteopathic Medicine
    Kansas City, Missouri, USA
    Graduated 1982
    1 Year Rotation Internship
    Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA
    Graduated 1983
    Licensed to practice Medicine and Surgery in Ohio, USA and Florida, USA
    1983 - to date
    Volunteer Physician at Utila Community Clinic & attending Physician at Utila Hyperbaric Chamber
    Oct 2001 - to date

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