Once William Schmitt becomes Dr. William Schmitt in June, he will probably leave this area to fulfill his goals of practicing reconstructive and plastic surgery.
Even after he’s gone, however, a spirit cultivated during four years of Schmitt’s training will remain in The University of Toledo Medical Center. It will spark every time a UT volunteer checks the heart rate of a child, prepares a patient for surgery, and dispenses medication for dengue fever in Leon, Nicaragua.
Schmitt, who earns his medical degree in June and has applied for residencies outside of northwest Ohio, has been honored as UT’s monthly Jefferson Awards “Champion” recipient for creating a medical mission program.
“Not only is Will committed to serving people, but his passion to serve is inspirational,” said Denise Oancea, faculty member in the College of Nursing. “He’ll be leaving us this year, but the tradition he’s started with the mission program will carry on.”
Schmitt’s dedication to service began with a somber realization.
“I had been asked for three examples of altruism on my medical school applications and was completely stumped,” he recalled. “I hadn’t done anything altruistic.”
Shortly after, he was accepted into medical school. The same week, he bought a one-way plane ticket to Nicaragua. The five months he spent there would set the tone for a program that, today, assists thousands of Nicaraguan patients.
“Being in Nicaragua was the most incredible experience,” Schmitt said. “When I came back, I knew I wanted to go on more of these trips and get other medical students involved. It would be a great chance to help people and promote a learning experience for the clinical participants.”
During Schmitt’s first year of medical school, he hosted fundraisers, recruited volunteers, and secured donations of supplies and equipment. With $8,000, he and a team of about 20 volunteers treated more than 1,000 patients during eight days in Leon.
As he continued the demanding curriculum of a medical student, the mission expanded. With $13,000 annually secured through numerous fundraisers, Schmitt and his team have returned to Nicaragua for three years to treat more than 3,000 indigent natives — some of whom haven’t seen physicians in months or even years. Their maladies include tropical illnesses, parasite infections, nutritional deficiencies and other, more common conditions, including surgical procedures performed in Nicaraguan facilities far different from the state-of-the-art technologies at UTMC.
“We practice in a hospital that has no air conditioning or sophisticated imaging equipment, such as CT scans or MRIs,” Schmitt said. “IV tubing is hung on sticks, and sometimes the electricity just goes off and you don’t know when it’s coming back on.”
Despite the rustic conditions, membership on Schmitt’s teams has increased.
“We’ve all grown very attached to the Nicaraguan people, and we can see how much of a need they have for medical care,” he said. “They’re very gracious, welcoming and so grateful for any help we can give.”
Oancea marvels at Schmitt’s dedication to the cause. “He’s done whatever he has to for the mission to continue,” she said, “even being the DJ at one of our fundraisers. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do as a physician. I have a feeling he’s one of those people we’re going to read about someday with all of the great things he’s going to do.”