Med school students start mission

by Conor Galligan | 11/26/07 2:22am

While most university students focus on studying for exams, Dartmouth Medical School student Nick Ellis DMS'10 spent his college years developing a program to support medical missions to Ecuador. Ellis' program -- Medicine, Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere, or MEDLIFE -- seeks to provide healthcare and education to communities that wouldn't get them otherwise.

Established in 2005 at the University of Maine, the organization is student-run and currently includes members from the University of Maine, University of Vermont, University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine and Dartmouth College.

Jessica Montes '10, co-president of the Dartmouth chapter of the organization along with Matthew Davis '08, went to Quito, Ecuador for one week during the summer of 2007 with MEDLIFE. Montes served as a Spanish translator for her group.

"It was very good experience, very intense." Montes said. "It made me even more well-rounded, seeing the people out there, seeing how poverty affects the healthcare system."

Montes is pursuing a pre-medical track, as are many of the students who go on the trips -- but students do not need to be pursuing any specific major to be a part of the program.

"It's not just for premed," Montes said. "Everybody can find something in this; it's a very enriching experience."

This year, Ellis hopes to take at least one, two-week trip to Ecuador instead of the organization's typical one-week trip. Ellis said that members of MEDLIFE at Dartmouth have expressed interest in spending an extra week helping those in need.

The organization's members raise all of the requisite funds for supplies and surgeries by sending out mass-mailings and raising support from local businesses. Sponsors send their tax-deductible donations to the Hitchcock Foundation at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the University of Maine Foundation, which receive the contributions on behalf of MEDLIFE.

Students going on the trip pay $650 for a one-week trip or $850 for a two-week trip, plus the cost of airfare. Ellis said he hopes that, if a sufficient amount of money is raised, approximately 20 percent of funds will go to reducing students' personal costs on future trips. In the past, the organization, with the help of the College, has been able to find scholarships and grants for students who cannot make the financial commitment.

Ellis himself also helps to raise money for the trips. He once stood outside of WalMart and begged for change to raise money for heart surgery for a child the group met while in Ecuador -- an effort he said he would be willing to repeat.

When Ellis graduates from DMS, he plans to seek a career that mirrors his current work with MEDLIFE.

"Here at the Medical School that's called global health or international health," Ellis said. "My interest is in health disparities."

Ellis said he hopes that MEDLIFE will remain on campus under new student leadership after his graduation.