ELIZABETH — A native of Belize, Deon Ford, MD, a second-year medical resident at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, knows that people in South and Central America have a very different view of healthy behaviors. “Bad habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol, are accepted as a part of life. Obesity is not looked upon as necessarily bad for your health,” he explains. It’s a dangerous attitude that is pervasive throughout the region, leading to such problems as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
While working in the Elizabeth community as part of his medical training, Dr. Ford began to see the same attitudes among those immigrants who visited the clinics at Trinitas. “I knew their unhealthy perceptions needed to change, so I decided to come up with a way to teach their children some of the truths about these risky behaviors. My hope was that this would improve the health of these young people, and that they would also share this information with other family members.”
He brought his idea to Jill Butler, MD, Primary Care Director, and William Farrer, MD, Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine residency program. “Both thought it was something I should try to do right away,” he stated, adding, “Through her experience in the clinic, Dr. Butler sees many of these same harmful perceptions among people from South America and the Caribbean, and she agreed that health education is badly needed.”
With that endorsement in place, Project RATE (Residents As Teachers In Elizabeth) was born. “My fellow residents at Trinitas were very excited, and in fact I got commitments from ten of them to go into the schools and teach about healthy behaviors,” he explained. Since the program’s launch in January, the residents teach classes twice per month, but they hope to increase this pace dramatically. “The only thing standing in our way is time, because we keep such a busy pace here at Trinitas. But our Chief Resident, Oleg Shulik, MD, has been working with us to free up as much time as possible so we can teach even more classes.”
The staff of the Elizabeth High School has also been very cooperative, according to Dr. Ford. “Social workers from the school help to identify those students who could benefit from the classes, and they send them to us in groups of 30 and more. The feedback from the school and the students has been excellent so far. I think we’re starting to make an impact.”
Dr. Ford would like to see Project RATE take hold and become a permanent part of the Trinitas residency program. “I’m grateful that I work in an environment where a great idea like this can grow into reality. We’re all here to help as many people as possible – it’s the reason we got into medicine in the first place.”
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