Hurricane help: USF doctors head to Puerto Rico, island's medical students invited to Tampa

Nearly 12 USF doctors are headed to Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

TAMPA – As recovery efforts continue in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, the University of South Florida is preparing to send about a dozen of its doctors to the storm-ravaged island to assist with medical care.

Dr. Asa Oxner said she didn't think twice when the opportunity arose.

To me the decision was made a long time ago," Oxner told 10News. "To go help people who don't have all the privileges we have here, that is what is important about being a doctor."

Over the course of October, beginning this week, 12 USF Health doctors will travel to Puerto Rico to provide medical treatment to victims in various areas across the island.

The doctors will travel in groups of three or four, with each group spending about one week on the island. Oxner leaves with her group on Saturday.

"When this happened in Puerto Rico, right in our backyard ... it was a natural thing that we had to do," she said.

Oxner says they plan to take supplies and medication. She said they will be helping to relieve local physicians at a rural hospital who haven't had a break since the storm hit. 

More: Click here to donate supplies to the doctors heading to Puerto Rico

It's not Oxner's first experience working abroad. She spent several months working in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak.

The university is also extending a welcome to Puerto Rican medical students.

"It’s something that probably a lot of people don’t realize but when you have a disaster like this, if you stop training, then down the road — in one year, two years — you’re going to have a shortage of health personnel," Oxner said.

Pending approval, more than 200 Ponce Health Sciences University students will be allowed to finish their semester in Tampa.

“We’re proud that our outstanding Morsani College of Medicine was contacted and we are pleased that we can be of assistance to our neighbors in Puerto Rico,” USF System President Judy Genshaft said in a news statement.

PHSU faculty, staff and administrators are also invited. A decision from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education could be made as soon as this week, according to USF.

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