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Med Student Working to Reduce HIV Infection in DC

Georgetown University student tackles the big issue in the inner city

Providing needle exchanges, wound care and counseling for drug users in the roughest parts of Washington, D.C., is what Georgetown University medical student Shenelle-Marie Wise (M'12) chooses to do in her personal quest to help others.

“We can’t ignore the needs that exist in at-risk communities,” Wise says.

About once a month, she jumps aboard a worn-out Winnebago and visits underserved parts of D.C. for a mobile outreach program run by the nonprofit Prevention Works.

Service Learning
Wise started working for the program to meet the School of Medicine’s service-learning requirement and stayed on as a volunteer.

“Instead of pushing people to the side, we bring them into the fold and say, ‘OK, you’re not doing something that’s beneficial to your health, but at the same time you’re a human being,’ ” says Wise, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago. “ ‘You still need assistance with health care, with getting clean, with food and clothes.’ ”

The program aims to curb the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses in a city with the country’s highest rate of new AIDS cases.

Rural Needs
But Wise’s volunteer efforts are not limited to urban settings -- in the summer of 2009 she set up and staffed temporary clinics in the Dominican Republic through a program administered by the Institute for Latin American Concern.

Wise joined a team of doctors and medical students visiting schools and churches in the island’s rural areas, treating bacterial infections and prescribing medication, among other services.

“It was exciting to practice some of the skills I’m learning in the classroom and to be able to reach people who needed care,” she notes. 

Limited Means
Wise has firsthand experience with poverty -- she immigrated with her family to Maryland when she was 18 and her parents had very limited means.

“I didn’t have a lot of resources growing up -- we had just enough to get by,” she explains.

Determined to go to medical school, she excelled at Montgomery Community College in Maryland for two years, and then transferred to Georgetown for an undergraduate degree in biology. Scholarships allowed her to attend the university’s School of Medicine.

“Without the support of donors, I wouldn’t have been able to come this far,” she says, “to learn from these wonderful professors… [and] be part of an institution so dedicated to those in need and to educating the whole person.”

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