NEW YORK, June 14, 2006 -- The ruin and despair that greeted the City College students in parts of New Orleans many months later was still shocking.
“People that were victims of a natural disaster should not have to fend for themselves afterward,” said Akeem Marsh on his return to New York. “It’s hard to believe that nine months after the hurricane, the areas worst hit remain just about completely in ruins.”
Mr. Marsh was one of 16 CCNY students -- 15 of them from the College’s Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education -- who spent spring break this year doing volunteer work in the gulf city still reeling from Hurricane Katrina’s fury.
The group was led by Assistant Medical Professor Anne Dembitzer of Sophie Davis’ Department of Community Health and Social Medicine and supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.
“The students really stepped up to the plate to serve in any way they could,” said Dr. Dembitzer, an internist who also volunteered her services to a couple of clinics there, including the Latin Health Outreach Project which treats patients in the middle of a parking lot.
The 15 Sophie Davis premed students in the contingent received some hands-on medical training during the trip in conjunction with their efforts to help with the recovery.
Each day, Dr. Dembitzer would take two of them to a clinic where she treated both residents and volunteer workers living in the area. Many patients with chronic diseases were left unmonitored and without medication after Katrina. Many presented with symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. One patient, who recalled how he spent four days after Katrina pulling people out of the water, still had nightmares.
“The students would do patient intakes, vital signs and shadow me and other doctors or medical students. They really enjoyed all the hands-on work with patients, being able to interact with third and fourth-year medical students, and being able to see first hand how care is delivered,” she noted.
Working with “Common Ground,” a local community organization founded by Malik Rahim in response to Katrina, the CCNY team also helped gut houses damaged by the hurricane, cleaned schools and churches, paint and remove debris, among other things.
One of the schools they helped gut was the Martin Luther King School in New Orleans’ lower ninth ward. Also, two of the churches team members assisted in cleaning and rehabilitating opened for the first time since Katrina struck last August for Easter services, which some of the students attended.
At a women’s center, the CCNY volunteers helped clean and take care of children who currently have no access to schools.
“Overall the trip was an incredible experience,” said Dr. Dembitzer. “The students worked very hard.”
The full list of City College students who traveled to New Orleans was: Elliott Aguayo, Lale Akaydin, Vanessa Batista, Tran Huynh, Shanekqua Richardson, Pankaj Khullar, Barry Ladizinski, Jenny Lee, Rajani Maret, Akeem Marsh, Nadia Quijije, Travina Varghese, Katherine Walia, Jing Wang, Kimberly Watson, and Maria Rosa.
Hurricane Katrina, which hit late last August, caused catastrophic destruction along the coastlines of Louisiana and Mississippi. It flooded roughly 80% of New Orleans, killing more 1,600 people and causing over $75 billion in damage, making it the deadliest U.S. storm since the1928 Okeechobee Hurricane.
About CCNY’s Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education
Now in its 33rd year, the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education offers a unique seven-year BS/MD program that integrates an undergraduate education with the first two years of medical school. After five years at Sophie Davis, students transfer seamlessly to one of six medical schools: Albany Medical College, Dartmouth Medical School, New York Medical College, New York University, SUNY Downstate Medical Center or Stony Brook University for the final two years of medical education and their MD degree. The Sophie Davis School currently has 360 students.
The Sophie Davis School’s mission is to increase the accessibility to careers in medicine for inner-city youths of New York City, especially minorities under-represented in medicine, and to train primary care physicians to serve in medically under-served communities. Approximately 43 percent of Sophie Davis students are African-American or Hispanic, a level unequalled at other medical schools in New York State or nationally.
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