Alison Smith, who will earn her MD and PhD degrees at Tulane University Commencement this May, has been participating in medical missions to Haiti since she was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech.
Alison Smith, executive director of Sante Total: Healthcare for Haiti’s Poor, speaks with a patient on one of her medical missions to Haiti. (Photo by Evan Sanders)
“I first went to Haiti when I was in my senior year of college in 2007,” Smith says. “It was a spring break trip that was supposed to be a one-time thing, but it kept going!”
When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Alison knew she would be needed. “I arrived there 96 hours after the earthquake and stayed for two weeks.”
Soon after, Smith spearheaded the creation of a nonprofit organization, Sante Total
, Haitian Creole for “Total Health,” to fund further medical missions. Every three to four months since the earthquake, Smith has led doctors, medical students and residents to Haiti, where she is known as “Dokte Alison.”
The volunteers fly into Port-au-Prince and drive to the isolated town of Jacsonville on the island’s central plateau where they provide much-needed primary health care and medicine.
“Jacsonville is very remote, so people there don’t have many healthcare options,” says Smith. “There is one hospital in the area that charges too much money, so they either go to a voodoo priest or they just die at home.”
The long-term plan is to build a healthcare system there. “We are sending a young guy to medical school who will be the community’s first permanent doctor, and we are building a community healthcare clinic.”
Her PhD is in biomedical sciences, and her dissertation focused on healing of chronic wounds. Smith will continue in general surgery residency training at Tulane, and will receive an award for excellence in surgery at the School of Medicine’s Ivy Day
“Sante Total is different in that all the money that people donate goes directly to helping the community. We are always looking for volunteers — medical, non-medical, anybody who is interested in going.”