Helping survivors of Hurricane Odile led this winner of the 2022 Healthline Stronger Scholarship to find his calling.
Daniel Samano, MD, was on his way to the airport after helping survivors of Hurricane Odile for 5 days. Then the driver lost control and flipped the car.
Samano noticed that one of the other passengers needed care right away — but the hospital had been destroyed in the storm. The next best option was to rush to the airport with the help of local authorities and fly her to a hospital in Mexico City, where Samano grew up, more than 1,000 miles away.
She was released from the hospital a week later, but the experience left a lasting impact on Samano. The incident shone a harsh spotlight on how natural disasters can affect access to healthcare.
This memory would become a driving force behind his research on extreme weather and healthcare access in the years that followed.
He has since earned a master’s degree in public health and is now pursuing a master’s of science in climate and health at the University of Miami, bolstering his training as a medical doctor.
“No matter how many titles or degrees someone can get, the best rewards in life come from being able to save lives and make a positive impact on the community,” says the 36-year-old. “My ultimate goal is to continue building the bridge between clinical medicine, climate and health, and public health.”
We asked Samano about his studies, goals, and obstacles. Here’s what he had to say.
This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.
What first got me into the fields of medicine and public health, as well as my current studies in the science of climate and health, has been a genuine interest in helping people, from the individual level to the entire population. There are a few experiences that have led me to where I am today.
I served as a medical doctor for an Indigenous community of more than 5,000 people in an extremely rural area, which helped me recognize the importance of public health work and the role of doctors.
I also provided relief care after Hurricane Odile in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2014. I saw firsthand how extreme weather events impact survivors’ health and limit their access to necessary care.
Lastly, in the 4 years I’ve spent living in Miami, I have noticed how individuals in South Florida do not realize the subtle yet constant worsening of the climate. They don’t see how it is influencing their health, healthcare access, and much more.
Studying climate and health, and combining it with my training as a doctor, gives me a chance to work on these issues and help raise awareness about the connection between climate change and health.
I was born and raised in Mexico City, where I obtained my medical doctor degree at Anahuac University. After graduation, I had the opportunity to see international healthcare systems around the world, including England, Germany, and in Miami, Florida.
These experiences solidified my decision to pursue my Master of Science in climate and health at the University of Miami.
During this time, I’ve faced a number of personal and professional challenges, all while continuing my pursuit of my education, working in clinical research in the neurosurgical intensive care unit, giving interviews to the media on COVID-19, and getting involved in smoking cessation programs for vulnerable communities.
This work has given me new perspectives and ultimately helped me discover a hidden passion for the field of climate and health.
When I first started exploring the influence of climate on healthcare access, I received negative feedback from senior clinicians and researchers who did not believe in the influence of climate on health or in its impact on the healthcare system.
Instead of allowing this to halt my research, it encouraged me to think outside the box. I ended up developing two research protocols.
The first study analyzed 30 years’ worth of hourly weather data by zip code to see how it affected the use of outpatient HIV clinics connected with the largest academic medical center in South Florida. I found that this population was significantly more likely to miss their scheduled visits on days with extreme weather events.
For the second project, I developed and implemented two surveys to assess how extreme weather impacts the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of five vulnerable communities in Miami, as well as public health professionals across the nation. More than 500 respondents have already completed the surveys.
I’ve got other studies in the works, but I’ve already had the opportunity to present the results of these efforts at international conferences.
This type of research helps deepen our understanding of the effects of extreme weather events on how people access healthcare and push for changes that help people.
For example, this guidance can encourage outpatient clinics to help reschedule appointments when extreme weather is forecasted. That could help reduce the strain on emergency healthcare systems and better serve communities.
These research efforts also help combat skepticism about the connection between climate change and healthcare.
My experience providing disaster relief after Hurricane Odile gave me a close look at the healthcare challenges that arise from extreme weather.
I was on my way back to the airport after caring for survivors for 5 days when my driver lost control of the car. We hit the curve at nearly 70 miles per hour, and our car landed upside-down in the desert.
One of the other passengers started projectile vomiting and had a severe headache. She clearly needed care, but going to the hospital wasn’t an option. The city had been destroyed by the hurricane.
Local authorities rushed us to the airport to get the next available flight to Mexico City. Once we landed, we took her to a hospital, and she was discharged a week later.
With extreme weather events and natural disasters becoming more frequent and intense around the world, we need to find ways to be resilient and ensure that survivors don’t face additional obstacles to getting care.
This will require a variety of approaches across disciplines, which is why I’m pursuing a Master of Science in climate and health. As a researcher and future clinician, this degree will complement my vision to become a pioneer in understanding the consequences of climate change on health and developing interventions that address health inequities.
We have the knowledge, capacity, and potential resources to slow down rising temperatures. In other words, not everything is lost, and the way to make it change is through collective efforts across disciplines.
I have lived through hurricanes and extreme weather events that have affected my family, my work, and where I have lived. I choose to face this crisis by helping others and raising awareness.
If you have been affected directly to the point where your mental health has been impacted, I invite you to reach out for help. And, in whatever field you work, try to make a choice to become part of the solution. We all need to work together.