Gratitude in the Midst of Growth

PMI Uganda 2014

Volunteers gather around the table in Masindi, Uganda, to share in a meal.

By, Tyler McCoy, PMI’s Director of Operations

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for a multitude of reasons; the most obvious one would being the focus on gratitude and thanks. The holiday creates both time and space for reflection. The fast-paced culture of our society does not always make this discipline of reflection or even introspection very easy. And I find that I can pretty easily get swept away in all of the commitments and busyness without stopping, not even for a moment, to enjoy and celebrate all of the things happening right now. I tend to be so future-oriented focused that I miss the present. But not at Thanksgiving. At Thanksgiving I give myself the grace and freedom to be still and be thankful.

When I think about PMI and all of the growth and change that has characterized the past few years I am overwhelmingly thankful. We have so many different groups of people who have not only made the success of the organization possible but who have also made it a whole lot of fun.

The first of those groups is our staff and board of directors. Our staff and board are some of the best around. I have honestly never been surrounded by a group of people with more passion and drive than our folks who serve on staff and on our board. Each and every single one of this group loves people really well and is incredibly invested in bringing about change to the healthcare landscape of the developing world. And each of them does so with such grace and humility that I find myself being both inspired and empowered daily.

And then the next group is our partners. We have a team of people who have come alongside what we are doing and we literally could not be more grateful. It is always so encouraging to see people working together for a common cause, for good. From partners like NEEDTOBREATHE to Seacoast Church, we are constantly blown away by all of the support they provide that is directly linked to our growth as an organization. There is something to be said for organizations who use their influence and platform in a way that spurs their fellow man on. And that is exactly how all of our partners leave us feeling at the end of the day. We are so thankful that so many organizations have entered into this with us and cheered us on all along the way.

Next on the list is our volunteers, all 1,537 of them. The volunteers are such a unique group of people. We always say from the beginning that anyone who is willing to give of their time, resources, and talent to join us on a trip to Uganda or Nicaragua is already a pretty awesome person. Our volunteer base is incredibly strong and I, personally, have never met one that did not inspire or make an impact on me in some way. And even more than that there is just something so powerful that happens when you get a group of people together, take them outside of their comfort zone, and watch them come to life as they become part of the solution to healthcare in the developing world.

And last but certainly not least is our patients. The whole reason we exist as an organization comes down to this last people group. We have the honor and privilege of serving some of the best East Africa and Central America has to offer. We are constantly blown away by their courage, strength, and joy, and we literally could not be more excited to play a small part in transforming the communities they live in to include access to healthcare.

So the only thing really left to say is thank you. And while those two words seem almost trite and do not even begin to articulate the overwhelming feelings of gratitude, I do not know any other way to attempt to express our thanksgiving. Thank you to each and every person who has made these past few years of growth at PMI possible. And we look forward to having each of you be part of the story for years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

Photo by Paul Kim for PMI. 

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Staff Spotlight: Jenny Smith, Operations Coordinator

Jenny Smith - 134

Our team is growing at PMI and we are pleased to introduce you to Jenny Smith, our new Operations Coordinator. Jenny brings years of experience from the healthcare field and we are excited to have her inside knowledge on the team.

Where are you from?

Akron, Ohio

Tell us more about your background:

I went to the College of Charleston for undergrad and received by MBA in healthcare management from the University of Akron while working for the American Red Cross. From there, I went on to work with a healthcare system in Charlotte and most recently was working at East Cooper Medical Center.

How did you hear about PMI?

I volunteered on a trip to Uganda with PMI in May 2012 through Seacoast Church. That experience inspired me to learn more about PMI and its vision.

Tell us more about your role with PMI:

PMI is definitely going through a growth spurt. As the organization continues to expand at a rapid pace, I will be on deck to assist with day-to-day operations.

I can clearly see God’s hand moving this organization as it expands throughout Uganda and Nicaragua. Having served with PMI as a volunteer makes this experience so much more real because I am deeply passionate about the cause of sustainable healthcare throughout the world.

Tell us about yourself:

I am newly married to Landon Smith. I am also passionate about working with others to help them deal with their grief. In my spare time, I am working to start an organization that connects others with the resources and people they need to recover from loss. Having experienced the loss of my mother at a young age, I believe in the power of community and looking to the Lord in situations where it seems as though hope does not exist.

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Staff Spotlight: Amie York, Director of Volunteers


Amie recently joined PMI as the new Director of Volunteers. Her love for life and others is evident when she walks into a room. We are excited to have Amie join our team and wanted to give you an opportunity to get to know more about her.

Where are you from?

Virginia Beach, Virginia

What did you study?

I went to James Madison University and studied hospitality management and business. After school I worked in the event industry before joining PMI’s team.

How did you hear about PMI?

From a close friend, Caitlyn Reeves, who used to work for St. Andrews Mt. Pleasant. She has always talked about the sustainable work that PMI is doing abroad and notified me when this position was open.

Why are you excited about your role as the Director of Volunteers?

I love to connect people. Whether it helping to grow volunteers during their personal journey on the medical trips or giving individuals an opportunity to become more well-rounded in their field, I am looking forward to working with all of the volunteers so that we can use our resources for good and further the quality of life for someone in need.

Tell us about the non-profit that you started in college.

It’s called Loads of Love. It is a laundry service that serves the homeless population near James Madison University. A friend and I saw a need and decided we would do what we can to help and God’s provision has been evident as more and more people asked to get involved.

My outlook on life has always been service oriented- when we help each other, an exchange happens. It’s not the traditional view of “saving” someone else; rather, it is realizing that everyone brings something to the table and that we’re all in this together.

We realized that clean clothing could help in the process of job searching and interviewing, and we quickly learned that our new friends had great life advice because of their life experience. Plus, who doesn’t like having his or her laundry done for them?!

For us, it was an easy way to meet an immediate need and a great reminder of humanity. Others in the community stepped up and donated their time, money and hearts to rally around these individuals and lift them up in whatever small way they could.

What inspires you to work for PMI?

I’m a natural connector, so the relational part of how PMI is working to achieve sustainability is important to me. PMI is creating a lasting impact abroad. It has always been my belief that by meeting someone’s smallest need, even if it’s just an affirming smile, you provide confidence and legitimacy. I am excited to see that in action.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was very involved in Young Life at one point in my life, and still think camp is the best week of your life. I also am a coastal gal. I love the beach and being close to water so making the move from Virginia Beach to Charleston was a natural fit. I’m also very creative: I love all types of art, interior design, and antique finds. I enjoy finding Instagram memes and drinking vanilla cortados… usually at the same time.

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Staff Spotlight: Claire Kendall is Promoted to Special Projects Coordinator


Congratulations, Claire! It has been an exciting year with the PMI team and we are looking forward to all you will bring to the table in this new role.

Tell us about your new position:

My new position is a project coordinator role. I will be taking on 3 key “projects”- managing all volunteer communication for our short-term trips, building out and running our public health intern program and developing our alumni network for former PMI volunteers to continue to stay involved in our organization.

What have you learned over the past year at PMI?

This past year at PMI, I’ve learned so much. I’ve been very empowered by the people in this organization, by watching how hard they work and receiving their respect. It has increased my drive to serve. PMI has really fostered my growth professionally and spiritually. This year, I’ve specifically learned more about the value of self-discipline, humility and drawing my confidence and strength in my work from the Lord.

What are you most looking forward to in this new role?

I am most looking forward to the relationships that I will continue to develop at this organization and how every person involved in short-term trips or internships aids in the growth of PMI as well. My entire role is characterized by relationships with key parties in our organization. I’m excited to engage with people, to connect them with others and to very intentionally invest myself in people in the same way that people have so deeply invested in me.

What inspires you most about what PMI is working to accomplish?

I am inspired that PMI has seen a lack of quality healthcare in East Africa and Central America and has been able to come up with sustainable solutions to tangibly help others and contribute to their betterment. God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves and providing accessible healthcare to people is a huge need we can fill, especially in America where we have so many resources and so much wealth, relatively speaking. I’m pleased to be a part of a company where I actually see other people contribute their resources to our efforts.

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PMI Partnerships: Enlarging PMI’s Imprint Through Seacoast Church (Part 2)


By, Jason Surratt, Stewardship Pastor at Seacoast Church and PMI Board Member

Seacoast’s partnership with PMI started in Masindi, but it soon opened the door to scaling PMI’s model in Nicaragua. For over 15 years, Seacoast has sent medical mission teams out into the world- Nicaragua is one of the countries that we return to again and again because of the relationship we have there with the local church.

In 2012, Matt Alexander, Michael O’Neal, Dr. Ed O’Bryan and I went on an exploratory trip to Nicaragua. It is the 2nd poorest country in the western hemisphere, right behind Haiti. We immediately noticed a like-mindedness between CFCI in Nicaragua, and PMI’s mission. Through our strong relationships in country, PMI was able to establish itself as a non-profit in Nicaragua.

We have found Nicaragua to be a relationally rich environment and it has allowed PMI to expand its imprint in Chinandega and Sebaco. Another example of the power of partnerships stems from another local church in Charleston: St. Andrews. They too had relationships in Chinandega with local churches and soon we found that new churches were being planted alongside our mission teams.

Partnerships don’t just exist with the church, we have seen the outpouring of support from individuals and businesses as well. One evening, the Jenkins family invited me over and asked more about Seacoast’s involvement in the community and missions around the world. Through this opportunity, they began investing in water projects and leadership development in Togo. A couple years later, through this relationship, we learned that Shawn’s mother was involved with missions in Nicaragua.  Since Seacoast and PMI were also involved there, it seemed like a natural fit for the family to invest in medical work there. Because of their generosity and partnership with Seacoast and PMI, there is now a clinic in Sebaco, Nicaragua. You can read more about it here:

What strikes me the most about the wide variety of partnerships that have forged through these experiences with PMI, is that so many people have heard the story and are now giving to missions, going on trips and praying for the people of Central America and East Africa. This is what we are focused on at Seacoast- bringing the story of the developing world to the people we meet. It has had remarkable results and we look forward to seeing what is next.

We cannot begin to express our gratitude to Seacoast Church, Jason Surratt, the Jenkins family and all of our partnerships that have formed over the years. It is truly a testament to the goodness of the world and we are so grateful for each and every person, church and business who has empowered PMI to expand its imprint around the world.

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PMI Partnerships: Enlarging PMI’s Imprint Through Seacoast Church (Part 1)


By, Jason Surratt, Stewardship Pastor at Seacoast Church and PMI Board Member

During the summer of 2011, I met Matt Alexander at a 40 under 40 event in Charleston. At the time, Seacoast Church was in the middle of its Hope Epidemic campaign, where we were focused on rebranding missions. It is our belief, that without hope people will perish.

As I began meeting with Matt and others connected with PMI, like Michael Overcash, I saw how Seacoast Church could form a partnership with PMI. PMI’s model is sustainable and they partner with local churches- both of these elements made a partnership with Seacoast ideal. We believe that the local church is the best relief agency in the world and thus wanted to invest in PMI’s efforts in Uganda.

During the 3rd year of the Hope Epidemic campaign, Seacoast Church came along side PMI and raise around $120,000 for the Labor and Delivery Ward at PMI’s Masindi Kitara Medical Center (MKMC) in Uganda. We were encouraged by the sustainable impact MKMC was already making in the local community; more specifically, how PMI stressed the importance of empowering the people of Masindi and the imprint that could be made with a continued investment in this region of the world.

At Seacoast, we believe in the power of partnerships and working together. Through organizations like ARC, we are able to utilize relational resources to empower people both here at home and abroad. PMI has not only partnered with Seacoast, but has partnered with churches throughout the Charleston area and beyond. This has built a community of believers who are working together to make a bigger impact.

Thank you, Jason and Seacoast Church for your continued commitment to the people of Masindi, Uganda. It is truly powerful to see how this partnership has enabled MKMC to grow and serve more and more people throughout the community.

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The Roots of PMI: Presenting a Pilot Study on Malaria Conducted by MUSC

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Left: Lacey and fellow EM residents prior to the presentation.

By, Dr. Lacey Menkin Smith

In October, thousands of Emergency Medicine physicians gathered in Boston for the American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly (ACEP 2015). The yearly event attracts people from around the globe to attend lectures, network, be involved in policy development, new technology and all things related to the present and future of Emergency Medicine.Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 2.00.29 PM

Global Health has emerged as a leading subspecialty within the field and a hot topic at this year’s conference. Thus within the field of Emergency Medicine, ACEP 2015 set a prestigious global stage for research in the realm of International Medicine. I had the unbelievable honor and a privilege to represent Palmetto Medical Initiative (PMI) and the Emergency Medicine Division at MUSC while presenting our research on the diagnosis of Malaria in Uganda.

If you are reading this then you are probably already aware that PMI aims to provide long-term improvement in healthcare in the developing world. Part of what we do to ensure that we provide the highest quality of care to our patients is to constantly evaluate our methods and research better ways to diagnose and treat disease.

I’ll avoid the nitty-gritty details but I do want to tell you a little bit about the research we are doing! The Abstract which I presented was based on a pilot study entitled Assessing US Clinician Gestalt in the Diagnosis of Malaria in a High Prevalence Area of Sub Saharan Africa.

Here’s a little bit of background: In 2010 the World Health Organization created an edict that all suspected cases of malaria should undergo confirmatory testing unless they occur in a high prevalence area where testing is unavailable or cost prohibitive. In those cases, the WHO suggests that treatment based on clinical suspicion alone is sufficient.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 2.01.48 PMThe region of Masindi, Uganda has a very high prevalence of Malaria. So what we wanted to know was this: Should we test our suspected malaria patients or treat them based on clinical suspicion? The answer of course depends on how well our clinicians perform at clinically diagnosing the disease on PMI short term mission trips.

So we looked at how one set of clinicians did on a short term trip and what we found in our initial study is that the US clinicians studied were not accurate in their diagnosis of malaria based on clinical suspicion alone. These findings support the use of rapid “point of care” diagnostic testing on future medical mission trips. This information will help us to have better protocols and management strategies for suspected malaria cases in the future.

While our pilot study tells us a lot, it is only the beginning! We plan to continue this study to gather a larger sample size over a greater period of time so that we have a better understanding of the best way to provide quality care to our patients.

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Note from Dr. Menkin Smith: Special thanks to the following people involved in this research: Edward Obryan, MD, Craig Kutz, MD candidate, Christy Kelsey, Phd Candidate. Also thanks to all of the staff, supporters and volunteers at PMI and my fellow Emergency Medicine residents at MUSC for your support.

Thank you, Dr. Menkin Smith for taking the time to conduct and present this research on malaria diagnosis in East Africa. The presentation highlights the work that we are doing abroad and we are so grateful for partners like you. We look forward to how this research will further raise the bar of quality healthcare in the developing world.

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MUSC Global Health Symposium: Partnering for Impact in Global and Public Health


By, Claire Kendall, PMI’s Special Projects Coordinator 

On November 3rd, I had the pleasure of representing PMI in my attendance of two sessions at the MUSC Global Health Symposium. The first was a series of oral presentations on “Interventions in Low-Resource Settings that Span Disciplines, Institutions and Health Problems” and the second, a panel on “The Challenge of Sustaining Health System Strengthening in Low-and Middle-Income Countries.” I was equally impressed by both sessions and my take away was vast.

In session one, I was amazed as I listened to a group of varied specialists hash out similar problems that PMI encounters in the developing world, such as Chronic Kidney Disease and capturing and tracking patient data electronically with limited Internet access. There was hardly an issue discussed that did not relate to our work and it was exciting to gain new ideas and receive affirmation that other experts are tackling these problems in similar ways.

In session two, I heard about active efforts to implement sustainable training solutions for local healthcare professionals in Tanzania, Haiti, Ethiopia and other low-to-middle-income countries. The mode was the “train-forward concept,” or targeted education through long-term partnerships on the ground. The overall consensus was that these local professionals are highly gifted, but often constrained by austere working conditions, limited equipment and lack of educational support as one might expect in rural areas.

Many medical students, healthcare professionals and social entrepreneurs filled the room as these global conversations went forth. While daunting challenges were being presented, a sense of hope was also palpable. The conversation was not just presented as, “this is healthcare in the developing world and this is what we are doing about it,” but also an implied, “come and join us.” This was profoundly encouraging to me as I consider PMI’s growth and the valuable work that is being done in the developing world through many other non-profits and healthcare organizations.

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MUSC Global Health Conference: Lasting, Community Forged Change

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Presented by Michael O’Neal, Director of International Projects at PMI 

Your presence today is a testament to your place in the global conversation on development and your desire to be active in it. More specifically, your presence represents your desire to see long-term systemic change in the way the developing world receives healthcare.

Our culture as a whole is becoming increasingly aware of the salient need to find lasting healthcare solutions for some of our least advantaged brothers and sisters around the world. Sustainability is all the rage, but as it has morphed into a highly sought idea, it has lost its integrity.

Everyone, and I mean everyone in the development space, is talking about sustainability: From the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals that will guide the international development efforts through 2030, to EVERY movie star with a cause. But what does it mean? In the healthcare arena, sustainability is diluted to a buzzword that means anything from consistent cash flow to creative assets, but in actuality we have lost our focus on the true objective:

Lasting, community forged change.

As many of you have seen, in the developing world, people have two options when it comes to healthcare. They can utilize the public system, which is underfunded, overcrowded, and unable to meet the demands of the community. And though in theory it’s free, in actuality the only thing free is the consultation. Anything other than the conversation will cost you.

And then there’s private care. You can certainly find quality services but the problem is that only the top 10% of the population can actually afford it.

So what is the solution for all of the families caught in the gap between an under-functioning public system and an unaffordable private system?

That is where we come in. My name is Michael O’Neal and I am the International Director at Palmetto Medical Initiative. Since 2009, we have existed as a nonprofit organization to fill the gap by providing quality, affordable care to communities in need. And we believe we have come up with a model that provides affordable healthcare to impoverished communities and is not reliant on ongoing support to keep the doors open.

Additionally we provide an outlet for medical professionals, students, and researchers to engage with the developing world in a way that is beneficial for all involved.

Our projects in East Africa and Central America provide a full scope of medical services ranging from:

  • Outpatient care to labor and delivery
  • Performed by trained nationals
  • At a price point that is affordable to the majority rather than just a portion of the population

To date, 98% of patients at our pilot project site have been able to afford their services in full.

Which has allowed for something interesting to happen. At the intersection of quality and affordability we have found success. Just 13 months after opening our project in Masindi, Uganda the patient fees began covering or exceeding the operating costs of our project. Meaning that the project was 100% operationally sustainable with no outside funding required for hundreds and thousands of people to receive healthcare.

We use this framework and infrastructure of our facilities on the ground to ensure that short-term efforts and research are being done with excellence and cultural relevance.

At PMI we run all of our efforts through the filter of sustainability and create a bridge for volunteers to engage with our local staff and ensure the net result is not only positive, but that it will have lasting impacts for the communities we serve.

We create a framework through which we ensure the help given by our volunteers is done effectively and efficiently. And that the investment of time, finances, and knowledge of volunteers or (opportunity costs) are being used in a way that yields the greatest outcomes!

To date our combined efforts of over 1500 volunteers, giving 96,000 hours of their time and through the efforts of our over 85 national staff at 3 permanent clinic locations we have been able to provide quality medical care to nearly 150,000 patients.

Thanks for allowing us to be a part of this discussion today. We are passionate about serving the people of East Africa and Central America and humbled that we have the opportunity to do it in partnership with people like you!


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Global Handwashing Day


By Lynda Krisowaty, A Peace Corps Volunteer Leading MKMC’s Public Health Education Program

Celebrated worldwide each year on October 15th, Global Handwashing Day promotes proper hygiene as a simple and effective way to reduce disease and improve the health of the community. In fact, the simple act of handwashing with soap can reduce the risk of diarrheal diseases by up to 47 percent. Especially in Uganda, where only 27% of households have access to and use a handwashing station (Uganda P1020289Demographic and Health Survey, 2011), educating the community on simple handwashing techniques can greatly reduce the burden of disease. To commemorate the day, Masindi-Kitara Medical Centre’s youth group and Community Health Promoters organized multiple community activities throughout the week.

To kick-off our Global Handwashing activities, one of our Community Health Promoters, Peridha, taught 180 students at her primary teachers college how to wash their hands. Having never taught a session by herself, she was ecstatic to report that her training was a success! On Global Handwashing Day, 35 members of our youth group traveled to five primary schools and one secondary school near the health center and taught students and teachers about the importance of proper handwashing, critical times to wash hands, as well as the steps to handwashing. At the end of each session, youth group members constructed tippy-taps or simple hands-free handwashing stations near the latrines. To operate the tippy-tap, a stick is used as a foot lever which causes the container of water to tip over. This technology greatly reduces the transmission of germs compared to traditional methods where a container of water or tap must be touched with the hands. Watching youth groups members comfortably share their knowledge of handwashing and tippy-taps with the community and encourage young students to participate and ask questions was an incredibly rewarding experience and made all of the long hours spent training, planning, and organizing these activities well worth the effort.

To round out the week of activities, I taught mothers at our immunization clinic about the importance of washing hands as well as important times for them to wash their hands such asP1020481 after using the latrine, before preparing food, and before breastfeeding. That afternoon, several of our Community Health Promoters organized and held an education session at Kijura Market. While a cha
llenging location to facilitate a session in due to its set-up, the CHPs were able to educate approximately 85 market vendors and shoppers about the importance of handwashing as well as how to build a tippy-tap. Many of the market vendors were appreciative to learn how to construct a tippy-tap and were excited to go home and make one for their families. In fact, one little boy who watched the tippy-tap demonstration then went home and built one for his family. This highlights the far-reaching impact our health educators have on their own community. Throughout the next few weeks, youth group members have made additional plans to educate students and teachers at their own schools about the importance of handwashing as well as construct tippy-taps for the latrines. Overall, between the combined efforts of our youth group and Community Health Promoters, just over 1,000 people in Masindi were reached with hands-on education about the importance of handwashing and how to construct tippy-taps.




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