Q and A with Alan Sharpe

By John Tonin, Mohawk College School of Journalism

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The St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program (IOP) is unlike any other program in North America. The IOP brings doctors from foreign countries to Hamilton to train them in the latest Canadian medicine. What differentiates the IOP is that it allows the visiting doctors to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medicine and operate on patients, compared to other programs that only allow the doctors to observe.

Ignite News had the chance to meet the IOP’s director of development Alan Sharpe to discuss what the IOP would like to accomplish.

Ignite News: What is the history of the International Outreach Program?
Alan Sharpe: The IOP has been around for 30 years. We were founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s and it was a program that sent doctors and nurses overseas to train doctors and nurses. The program also donated equipment and supplies to countries that had a shortage of doctors and medical capacities.

Five years ago we became a registered non-profit and we train doctors who train doctors in Haiti, Guyana, and Uganda.

IN: What are the goals of the IOP when they bring a doctor to Canada?
AS: First of all, you need to understand that there is a doctor shortage in the developing world. In some developing countries, there are 100,000 people and only one doctor – that is like Hamilton having five doctors. There is especially a shortage of doctors with specialties or sub-specialties like hematologists or pediatric nephrologists and that is why we bring the doctors to Canada.

Our goals are two-fold. One is that they learn academically so they have the academic knowledge to go back to their country and teach others what they learned. We want doctors to train doctors so we can exponentially increase healthcare in Haiti, Guyana, and Uganda.

They also learn clinical skills to care for patients, diagnose patients, treat patients, improve outcomes and save lives. They learn the modern Canadian way of medicine so when they return home they improve the doctor-patient experience.

IN: The International Outreach Program recently sent a team of doctors and nurses to Haiti. What does the IOP try to accomplish when it travels to a country?
AS: We are helping in the local hospital in a city called La Pointe, which is in the northern part of Haiti. La Pointe has a large population and we are assisting with their obstetrics program. They have one obstetrician who delivers a thousand babies a year – three babies a day and he is always on call. This time we brought an obstetrician with us; our volunteer helps mentor the Haitian obstetrician as well as helping him diagnose and deliver babies.

We also brought an orthopedic surgeon with us and he spent time in the operating room training a third-year Haitian orthopedic resident in the latest in Canadian medicine.

Whenever we work in a country we work long term. We build the relationship, the trust and we return many times during the year and we continue where we left off. The key thing to remember about the IOP is that we only go to a country if we are invited and we only offer the training, equipment, and supplies that they ask for.

IN: If people wish to donate to the IOP where should they go?
AS: People can visit internationaloutreach.ca to learn more about our organization. If they want to donate they can visit internationaloutreach.ca/donate.

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