Making a phone call at a hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, July 2011.
Eduardo Munoz / REUTERS

Today, Carlos Adon is an experienced HIV/AIDS specialist in a well-equipped private clinic in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Twenty years ago, he was like most of the country’s other recent medical school graduates: he had been sent into the countryside for 12 months of mandatory service, known as a pasantía year, as a poor community’s sole doctor. With access to only rudimentary equipment and medicines, Adon lugged around outdated textbooks and did his best to serve his patients. But his lack of up-to-date information created problems. At one point, a patient who appeared to have been poisoned by agricultural pesticides nearly died: Adon was unfamiliar with the chemicals used on the area’s farms and had no way to determine the appropriate treatment.

These days, a search through an online medical resource can help doctors quickly identify poisons and antidotes. But in the

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