Roly Gerena: Medical Responder and Founder of Nole-Med

Roly Gerena is a senior Biochemistry major at Florida State. After completing a medical mission trip in Ecuador, Gerena has been inspired to pursue a career in the medical field in order to continuing helping under-served communities. Gerena is the president and founder of Nole-Med, the future Executive Director of FSU’s Medical Response Unit and a member of the National Student Advisory Board for MEDLIFE.

Name: Roly Gerena

Age: 21                  

Year: Senior

Major: Biochemistry

Hometown: Miami, FL

Photo By: Lauren Alsina

Her Campus (HC): You are the president and founder of Nole-Med. When did you decide that you wanted to start this organization?

Roly Gerena (RG): I started it about two and a half years ago. I went over to Ecuador with an organization called MEDLIFE. Through them I met one of their volunteers, who – her and I – had very similar thoughts (in terms of providing public health for under-served communities) and we wanted to start a new organization on campus that would provide resources such as health care to unserved communities around Tallahassee.

Courtesy: Roly Gerena

HC: That is amazing! What, specifically, do you do to help try to solve this problems in the community?

RG: Well, our biggest barrier has been becoming involved with these [under-served] communities because we’re dealing with a pretty touchy subject. FSU’s medical school just recently started their own project where they go out once a month and provide health screenings for the residents of these communities. My biggest barrier was to gain trust with the med school in order for them to allow us to come and assist them. They are now allowing a few of our volunteers to go, once a month. Baby steps! The big picture is for a year from now (maybe two years from now) is to have members be more involved with the med school and with under-served communities.

HC: Would you say that your main priority is conducting health screenings?

RG: Yes, as of right now, that is the goal. Right now what we are doing with the community to gain their trust is that we are providing tutoring services for the kids. For the most part, the members of these communities have been the subjects of domestic abuse and many of these kids are homeless. When we’re talking of a community that is about 100 people – 60 of them are kids. The best way to gain the trust of the parents is through the kids. So every Tuesday and Thursday we go out and give tutoring services from 5:30 to 7:30.

Courtesy: Roly Genera

HC: What kind of tutoring does Nole-Med provide?

RG: Anything! The kids we teach are ages 6-12. They come in for help with reading and math, mostly. Apart from the tutoring service, we also give public health seminars to the parents. We come in and give a seminar once a month. One of our members is a chef and he comes in and cooks. Our last one was on high blood pressure because that is one of the more relevant conditions you see in under-served communities, due to their socio-economic status. So the parents come in and we tell them what it is, how to improve their conditions and we provide a healthy meal (which gives them incentive to come back next time).

HC: As for your involvement with the Medical Response Unit on campus, when did you start and what does the Medical Response Unit do for students?

RG: I started Medical Response about two years ago. The Medical Response Unit is a student-run organization, it is powered by student volunteers and it is actually a project of the University Health Center and FSU Police. We provide basic life support to the FSU community. Every volunteer has a designated shift. You have to take a class for your first semester of Medical Response. You take a three credit hour class, Monday-Wednesday-Friday.  Then it is followed up by an internship program where you shadow one of the older responders for a semester. Once you complete the internship, there is a minimum requirement for attending certain sporting events to serve at and you are given certain medical scenarios that must be completed. This helps gives responders confidence in themselves to use their certification. Once you finish the course you become an emergency medical responder. You can use that certification to become an EMT, Nurse Practitioner – anything in the medical field you may possibly need those skills for.

Courtesy: Roly Genera

HC: You were just appointed to be the new executive director for the Medical Response Unit for next year, what does that position entail?

RG: As executive director you are in charge of over-seeing the whole unit. In terms of responsibilities, I am basically the go-to guy for operations and planning. I am in charge of making sure payments go through and that we are getting enough money from SGA, because we are an RSO and we do receive a stipend. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues for us is that we are not being recognized by campus. We are still a relatively new organization, only about five or six years old. When Medical Response started there was only one person teaching the class. Two years ago we hired a full-time staff. Unfortunately, SGA does not recognize what we do nor do they see our importance on campus. It is a bit frustrating because, as executive director, you are overseeing 100+ responders who are volunteering their time to make sure that campus is safe. We attend every 5k, baseball game and we are on-site for all of dance marathon – I was there for 24 hours. We received no supplies. We had to use our own, which ended up taking a lot of money from our account and those are things that SGA could help us with so we can provide bandages and ice packs. We recently had to give away three of our cars because we needed funding for our supplies. We are constantly fundraising. At our last fundraising event we raised $3000 and next year I am looking to raise $5000 and to get a lot more funding from SGA.

HC: What made you want to go into the medical field?

RG: It was a mixture of things. But the thing that really solidified it was when I went to Ecuador – it was the first time I was exposed to what health care is like in another country. After that I interned in Peru for three months. I worked with under-served communities and I started a fundraiser where I raised over $5000 to build a daycare in a small city in Peru, which is being constructed now. My job there was to create sustainable programs for these communities because we want them to build up their confidence so they can receive recognition from their government, who is not currently recognizing them as a society. All of these things showed me that, as a physician, you can implement a lot of change. Also the body is a beautiful thing to me. I find it so assuming and fascinating and I’d hate to stop learning about it.

Courtesy: Roly Genera

HC: What did you do when you were in Ecuador?

RG: I went over there with MEDLIFE. M is for Medicine, E is for Education and D is for Development. We help health care professionals from the area provide medicine. We educate the community. And for development we fundraise money. For every $1000 we raise we build a staircase from the bottom of a mountain to the top so kids can find safe ways of getting to school. The program was just in Ecuador first but now we are in Peru, Ecuador, India and Nicaragua. The main purpose of these kinds of programs is to open the eyes of people from American and the goal is to increase the number of primary care physicians in these areas. 

HC: What are your career aspirations?

RG: I want to work with under-served communities. I’ve always loved kids, so I might specialize in that. I’ve also considered working with the elderly because I worked with the Alzheimer’s Project for two years and I really enjoyed taking care of the community there and hearing their stories. I want to focus on primary care and creating my own NGO that has a similar direction as MEDLIFE.

Courtesy: MEDLIFE