Q&A with Volunteer Dr. Natacha Pierre
In March, pediatrician Dr. Natacha Pierre spent two weeks volunteering with Project Medishare in the Central Plateau. Born in the U.S. and currently residing in New York, Natacha spent her early years in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. This trip was her first time back in nearly 15 years. Read our Q&A with Natacha to learn about her experience.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Both of my parents are of Haitian descent and spent most of their lives in Haiti. I am my parents’ 2nd child; my mother actually moved to New York during her pregnancy with me so that I could be born in the US. Soon after I was born, I joined my family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I lived for about seven years. My memories of Haiti were some of the best growing up.
Was this your first time returning to Haiti since you left as a child? If not, how many years had it been since your last visit?
Since leaving Haiti in 1991, I visited twice – once as a sophomore in high school and again as a sophomore in college. Although I was older, I can’t say I explored Haiti, or even Port-au-Prince to much extent. I was somewhat sheltered, so I’ve always felt that I truly didn’t know my own home country. I needed to visit again and explore Haiti through “adult eyes”.
Tell us a bit about your medical background. What is your specialty?
I attended medical school in St. Maarten at the American University of the Caribbean. I was fortunate to have completed medical school in four countries. I did my 3rd year clerkships in London, a 5-week rotation in Tanzania and my 4th year electives in New York. I am currently a Pediatric resident at Maimonides Infants and Children’s Hospital in Brooklyn, NY.
What made you want to volunteer on a medical mission?
The first seven years of my life, I was raised in a country known as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere”. However, I always felt that did not reflect my experience growing up in Haiti. Although I was too young to notice, I was raised in a way that shielded me from the disparities many in my own country faced. When I chose medicine as my career, it was because I wanted to give back to those less fortunate than me. I have been fortunate to have done medical missions in Latin America and Africa during medical school, and those experiences solidified my desire to continue a lifetime of global health in Pediatrics.
Why Haiti? And why with Project Medishare?
Although my desire for global health and medical missions is not limited to any region of the world, I always had the lingering thought, need and desire to “go back home”. As previously mentioned, I have been largely shielded from the many problems of my home country. Therefore, I truly felt it my calling to use my training to help my fellow brethren. Also, in my previous missions, language had always been a barrier, and at times I felt a hindrance to a successful mission. I wanted to go on a mission where speaking French and Creole would be an asset.
I received an email from Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) giving residents the opportunity to do a medical mission with Project Medishare. When I saw this opportunity, I quickly and enthusiastically applied. I was very honored to have been chosen to go to Haiti. I didn’t know about Project Medishare prior to this opportunity. I researched it, and was amazed at the work being done and excited for the chance to fulfill my dream to “go back home” under their tutelage.
What did you think of your time in Haiti with Project Medishare? Any special/notable moments you’d like to share?
I cannot overstate how grateful I am to have taken part in my two-week global health mission with Project Medishare. When I arrived in Haiti, everything was well organized. I was finally seeing Haiti through “adult eyes” and I was impressed at the infrastructure post-earthquake, starting from the airport to the capitol city. I was also pleasantly surprised at the paved and clean mountain roads leading to the Central Plateau. The accommodations [at Project Medishare’s guest house] surpassed my expectations hundredfold. This was just day one. I loved working in the spacious and well-stocked clinic in Marmont with my supervisor Pediatrician, Dr. Dieudonne, seeing dozens of patients daily.
During my second week in Haiti, I was especially fortunate because a group of 18 medical students, Residents, and Attendings arrived from University of Miami School of Medicine. Among them was the founder of Project Medishare, Dr. Arthur Fournier! His story, love for Haiti and amazing book “Vodou Saints” were all awe-inspiring. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to join with the group on their daily missions, from mobile clinics to home visits. It was a symbiotic relationship, as they too benefited from my Creole/French interpretation and teaching the medical students. I did not expect to have this role on this mission and yet this had to be the most rewarding aspect of the trip, as I absolutely love teaching!
Would you recommend it to others thinking of volunteering?
I have already recommended Project Medishare to my colleagues and will continue to do so. I myself would love to continue participating in medical missions with Project Medishare.
How did this trip affect you or change your outlook?
On January 12, 2010 when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck my city, Port-au-Prince, I felt helpless. I had just started medical school one week prior and I was sitting in class knowing I couldn’t do much, except donate money. My country and my city were in shambles and I couldn’t physically be present to help. I read and saw many stories of thousands going to help and that warmed my heart. However, I knew one day I needed to go back in person. With the help of CIR and Project Medishare, seven years later I had that opportunity. Immediately, I felt drawn to the Haitian people. They were very kind and welcoming, despite their shortcomings. They were very grateful and hardly complained if there was a long wait. They were resilient and they endured. I played a small role in their lives during my time in Haiti, but they played a much more significant role in mine. More than ever, I am proud to be Haitian and I hope this was the first medical trip in Haiti of many to come.