October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and students and staff were busy with many activities on the St. Kitts campus at UMHS, one of the leading Caribbean medical schools.
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Mariana Ndrio, president of the UMHS AMSA (American Medical Student Association) about this important month. AMSA is among many of the active UMHS student organizations and clubs helping make a difference in the lives of the UMHS community and also the people of St. Kitts as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month Highlights
UMHS Endeavour: What should people know about AMSA’s work on Breast Cancer Awareness Month this past October?
Mariana Ndiro: At AMSA we believe that patient advocacy and public service are vital and inseparable aspects of becoming a good physician. Physicians by nature care for patients, their families, and our communities. Although, as medical students, we might not have all the answers in a clinical setting or the classroom—this comes with time—we can make a change on others people’s lives since the very first day of our medical education, simply by advocating for causes that impact individuals and communities as a whole. Our core mission is based on the principle that high-quality healthcare is a right and not a privilege. That is why this semester, rather than doing separate activities, we decided to center our events around the cause of breast cancer. We were hoping to improve student medical knowledge and clinical skills regarding breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and most importantly raise community awareness regarding the significance of prevention and early detection. At the same time, we wanted to contribute to the Essence of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation of St. Kitts by fundraising.
What is one thing future doctors should know about breast cancer?
The mention of any kind of cancer sends shivers down the spine of many, especially in the Caribbean region. For many women, being diagnosed with breast cancer feels like a “death sentence.” When I met the lovely Mrs. Dianne, a breast cancer survivor, at a forum organized by the Essence of Hope Foundation, she told me that she was terrified and felt hopeless when she found out she had breast cancer and that she had to travel to a different country in order to receive proper treatment. Now, Mrs. Dianne is an avid advocate and community educator about the significance of early detection of breast cancer. Indeed, breast cancer is highly treatable if detected early. Yet, despite improvements in cancer treatments and screening measures, we still see staggering differences in survival rates among white and black women diagnosed with breast cancer. Although, prevalence of breast cancer among white and black women has reached an equilibrium, black women are still 40% more likely to die of breast cancer [according to the World Health Organization]. Also, black women are more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive forms of breast cancer. Many women also believe that breast cancer is solely hereditary, but that is true only 10% of the time. Lifestyle and environmental factors can also play an important role in developing breast cancer. For example, being obese, leading a sedentary life with little to no physical activity, or long-term use of hormone replacement therapies, are all considered common risk factors. While eating healthy and exercising, breastfeeding, eliminating smoking and alcohol intake are considered to have a protective effect. It is time we start monitoring breast cancer risk factors with the same heightened attention given to blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. How can we reduce breast cancer risks? Simply, through proper education. That was AMSA’s goal throughout October—to improve knowledge regarding breast cancer.
A Busy UMHS Breast Cancer Awareness Month
What were some of the highlights of the past month?
We wanted to raise awareness by engaging as many parties as possible and creating a bridge of collaboration between UMHS students, faculty, staff, and the community in St. Kitts. Our first fundraising event, Hoops for Hope, in partnership with the Sports Club, brought the UMHS students together in a fun basketball activity. Students held signs with breast cancer awareness facts and at least $300 U.S. was raised. The highlight of this event, however, was breaking the myth that “breast cancer affects only women,” which is a common misconception. After orally surveying male staff members regarding their opinions on breast cancer issues, we were disheartened to find out that a large number held the belief that breast cancer “only affects the ladies.” This is far from the truth since men can also develop breast cancer. Although the risk of male breast cancer is 1 in 1000 men and is considered rare, 80% of males at high risk of developing breast cancer are unaware they can get breast cancer [according to the World Health Organization]. Unfortunately, males have also a higher risk of receiving a false or a late diagnosis.
Clinical Lecture on Breast Cancer
Another event that was particularly important in improving student knowledge was Dr. Wilkinson’s Clinical Lecture on breast cancer. Dr. Wilkinson has been a practicing surgeon in St. Kitts for over 20 years and his experience, especially with Caribbean patients, offered a valuable insight on clinical diagnosis and management of breast cancer cases.
After this, students had the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they acquired in the classroom into clinical practice. During Campus Pink Day, AMSA organized a free Breast Cancer Screening event for all UMHS staff. Students were trained by Dr. Isaac on how to perform Clinical Breast Examinations (CBE) and most importantly, how to teach Self-Breast Examinations (SBE). We set up each examination room to contain breast models, signs, and pamphlets, so each patient received adequate training material and information. Moreover, we developed a patient form mirroring the clinical forms used in a U.S clinical setting during a breast examination. This allowed students to practice clinical skills and history taking with the same standards applied on a large hospital facility. More importantly, the form included additional breast cancer island resources for the participants, as well as reminded participants to have a CBE and a mammogram as per the advised timeframe. Mammograms can be performed at no cost at the JNF Hospital in St. Kitts. However, not everyone is aware of this essential service. The country of St. Kitts has also made improvements in the management and treatment of breast cancer by opening a fully functioning oncology department, offering chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer.
Essence of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation
Can you tell us a little about the Essence of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation? How much did you raise?
The Essence of Hope Foundation is a nonprofit organization in St. Kitts with the mission to educate and spread awareness regarding breast cancer, as well as provide support to those affected and their loved ones. The work of the Foundation in St. Kitts has been impressive and essential. As we have learned in medical school, to improve healthcare outcomes, there must be an effective partnership among multiple groups. So, when we reached out to the Essence of Hope Foundation at the beginning of the semester, they welcomed us and together we formed a partnership and an everlasting friendship. AMSA was involved in three activities in partnership with the Essence of Hope Foundation: A health clinic organized by the American Caribbean Student Association (ACSA); signing-up UMHS students and staff for the Annual Pink Walk; and organizing informational booths along with Because We Care after the Pink Walk. At the end of the Pink Walk, AMSA board members handed to the president of the Foundation, Dr. Marcus Natta, a check with the donation sum of $5,100 EC. We were able to not only reach our donation goal but also surpass it, after the generous contribution of $1,000 U.S. by our President Warren Ross, who wholeheartedly supported our cause. As well as the kind donations we received by our faculty, staff, students and other clubs such as the Medical Ophthalmic Association (MOA). We would like to thank each and every one who contributed to this cause! This was not about AMSA but rather about all the UMHS community coming together.
Upcoming AMSA events at UMHS
Can you briefly talk about some upcoming AMSA events in St. Kitts?
We are very excited about what the future has in store for our AMSA family. Every single day is an opportunity to learn, improve, and advocate. November is Diabetes Awareness Month and throughout this month, AMSA will be sharing educational and informational resources about diabetes prevention and treatment. We had a Vascular Doppler Clinical Workshop on November 15th. Participants had the opportunity to learn how to perform and interpret vascular Doppler exams, which are an important component of a peripheral arterial examination and a diagnostic tool in many Peripheral Arterial Diseases.
At the end of November, AMSA will hold its end-of-semester Food/Clothes Drive & Health Clinic, which has been an AMSA tradition for many semesters. This event will give the students the opportunity to give back to the community of St. Kitts amid the celebration of Thanksgiving. Because kindness and love of humanity should always be the guiding forces powering all of us who aspire to pursue a career in the medical field.
AMSA would like to give special thanks to:
- President Warren Ross for his generous contribution and for fostering the UMHS spirit of advocacy and community outreach.
- Mohan Kumar for being an amazing chapter advisor and for always supporting AMSA’s mission.
- Doherty for his delicious cookies for every Baking Sale fundraiser.
- Neilal Isaac for training students and supervising the Breast Screening Clinical Event.
- Fakoya for being the real MVP of the Hoops for Hope fundraiser.
- Lorraine Brown, the true heroine behind every UMHS event, for making sure all the events run smoothly.
- All the UMHS Clubs that collaborated with AMSA: ACSA, Because We Care, Sports Club, MOA.
Hard-Working UMHS AMSA Members
Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individual student attention, maintaining small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. We call this unique approach, “personalized medical education,” and it’s what has led to our unprecedented 96% student retention rate, and outstanding residency placements across the US and Canada. UMHS is challenging everything you thought you knew about Caribbean medical schools.