Medical students take part in first BCM humanitarian crisis simulation

July 1, 2011

Dr. Judy Levinson led students in simulated humanitarian crisis scenarios and exercises.
Dr. Judy Levinson led students in simulated humanitarian crisis scenarios and exercises.

When natural disasters occur, both within and outside of the United States, medical professionals often feel the need and desire to participate in the response efforts. Some medical students had the opportunity to receive unique training in this area to better prepare them to assist in future disasters.

Forty second-year medical students in the International Health Track program participated in BCM's first humanitarian crisis simulation, held May 21. This event was the culminating experience for the students' yearlong "Readings Elective in International Health" course.

"We took the students through a real-life experience of caring for victims after a hurricane in Jamaica. This was simulated off an actual event – Hurricane Gilbert, a category five, which made landfall on the east coast of Jamaica in 1988 and devastated many areas of the region," said Dr. Bobby Kapur, assistant professor of emergency medicine and associate chief for academic affairs in the section of emergency medicine at BCM.

Kapur, along with Drs. Jose Serpa-Alvarez, Judy Levinson and Robert Parkerson, all faculty members at BCM, led the students in the event held at Sheldon Lake State Park in Northeast Houston.

Given an official debriefing memo used by the Red Cross at the time of Hurricane Gilbert, the students, separated into two groups, made assessments and responses in four key areas: health, food, shelter and water.

"The students were taken through a series of exercises and scenarios that taught them models for how to respond in these different areas," said Colleen Keough, a third-year student and co-president of BCM Global Health, Baylor's global health student organization. "For example, students had to make decisions on food rationing – what was an appropriate and inappropriate representation in this situation."

BCM third-year student, Brandon Allport participating in simulation activities.
BCM third-year student, Brandon Allport participating in simulation activities.

In addition to Keough, Danielle Herder, Nico Cortes, Brandon Allport and Natalie Gwilliam, all BCM third-year students, served on the international health track curriculum committee that wrote and organized the event.

The simulation taught the students important skills about working in teams in a global setting, knowing their roles and understanding how they fit amidst a group of clinicians, public health experts and epidemiologists, Kapur said.

The response from the students was overwhelmingly positive, Keough said. "Not a lot of other medical schools have a similar program like this."

"I think it is extremely important that students and health care providers become more engaged with global health issues," said Kapur. "As we saw with Haiti and other disasters, it's important for us to familiarize ourselves with the concepts and how to implement them if a natural disaster were to occur."

The course will continue in 2012.