Hello from Jamaica!

My name is Drew Behunin and I am an Internal Medicine Resident at the University of Iowa.  It has been my great privilege to be the first Internal Medicine doctor to volunteer with the Issa Trust.  Honestly, I was quite nervous before starting.  The Issa Trust is a well established entity when it comes to the Pediatric world in Jamaica, but up until now has not been involved in promoting care for adults. I have been in country for just over 2 weeks and have to say that my experience has been unforgettable.

In Jamaica, most medical graduates begin practicing right after graduation without formal residency training.  Some pursue advanced training through the university and serve as consultants.  While the physicians I have worked with did not complete residency training, they do a commendable job at taking care of patients despite the limited resources available.  I see a lot of the same diagnoses that I would see in the United States, however their management is at times more difficult.  In the United States, any patient presenting to an Emergency Room is almost guaranteed to get at CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis followed by an MRI of the brain just for good measure! 🙂  Not so here in Jamaica.  Most advanced diagnostic tests including ultrasound, CT scans, echocardiograms, stress testing, spirometry, and even some basic laboratory studies are only available in the private sector.  While these tests are cheaper than they are in the States, they are often outside of the financial capability of the patients.

Hypertension seems to be running rampant among adults.  While many are getting appropriate treatment, I believe there is a greater population that have yet to be diagnosed.  I have spent the majority of my time working in the Accident and Emergency Department and have seen a lot of patients who present for other reasons and also happen to have blood pressures in the 190/100 range.  In these situations it is a no brainer to treat.  However, there are many who come with a blood pressure in the 140/90 range.  I refer these patients back to their local health center for repeat screening, however, there is no great way to relay this need to the health center nor guarantee the patient will follow through.  I am convinced that uncontrolled hypertension is contributing to the rising mortality from cardiovascular disease.  The majority of my time on the Medicine Wards at Anotto Bay Hospital is spent caring for patients suffering from stroke, heart failure, and the consequences of diabetes.  I was relieved to see that all of the major cardiovascular medications are readily available including ACE inhibitors, statins, and diuretics.  Through all of this I have learned to depend on my physical exam skills and clinical intuition, both of which are invaluable tools in the long run.

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