On Jakub Halicki’s first day volunteering aboard the USNS Comfort, he did something most first-year medical students don’t get to do: He saw a patient.
Halicki, a former Kearny resident and medical student, was one of the nearly 900 students from Ross University School of Medicine who volunteered on a medical aid mission off the Caribbean island of Dominica, where the school is located.
“As a first semester medical student, you might not know how to take a blood pressure, but you were able to go to local hospitals and clinics to learn,” Halicki, 24, said. “I was able to actually talk to patients, and nothing beats that experience.”
The Comfort, a former oil tanker, is the largest hospital ship in the world, with a 1,000-bed hospital facility, 12 operating rooms, four X-rays, a pharmacy, and a physical therapy center.
Doctors and nurses on board are traveling throughout the Caribbean and Latin America providing medical care on a mission called “Continuing Promise.”
Students assisted in the screening and treatment of conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to diabetes. Halicki, who lives on Dominica, noted that the ship also provided amenities that locals couldn’t always afford, like medicine, canes and walkers.
The unique collaboration between Comfort and Ross University School of Medicine provides medical relief to Dominica and contributes to the training of American doctors.
A Ross University School of Medicine spokesperson noted that the juxtaposition of classroom instruction with actual practice allowed “medicine to actually get real” for the students.
Dr. Joseph Flaherty, dean and chancellor of Ross University School of Medicine, said he is confident that the time students spent with medical personnel from Comfort has reinforced the value of helping their communities.
“There is no better way for students to grow than to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life scenarios like those they’ve encountered through the USNS Comfort’s clinics and surgeries over the last few weeks,” he said.
Halicki lived in Kearny from the time he was 4 to 16 years old, and moved to Pennsylvania with his family after his sophomore year at Kearny High School.
He spent two years after Centenary College in Hackettstown before transferring to East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, where he earned his degree.