Looking for opportunities to give yourself to?

We often blog about medicine being a calling…one, to which practitioners are motivated by God’s tug on their life to pursue.  P.K.Lee - MSF in Sierra LeoneUnfortunately, “a not-so-funny thing happens on the way to the forum.”  Their motivation to practice medicine shifts.  As one of my colleagues often states, “many go into medicine to do good, yet come out of medicine to do well.”  Here is an opportunity to do good…and, possibly get back to that original “calling.”

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) helps people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. On November 6, 2014, medical and non-medical professionals are invited to a late afternoon presentation from 5-6:30 in Vanderbilt University Medical School’s, Light Hall, Room 208,  to learn more about how they can join Doctors Without Borders’ pool of dedicated aid workers. For readers outside the Nashville, Tennessee area or otherwise unable to make the meeting, more information about opportunities can be found at this link:  http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/work-with-us

 

No magic solution…

The Siloam Institute offers clinical rotations to nearly 40 health professional trainees annually. Their rotation at Siloam helps them to deepen their understanding of how to engage persons living in poverty, work cross-culturally, and learn how to integrate behavioral health and spiritual care into their practice of medicine.

Click the video below to watch Samaiya Mushtaq reflect on a particular patient encounter stating, “I did not offer them a magic solution to their health problems, but I think they felt a little more healed after that visit.” Samaiya is a fourth-year Vanderbilt medical student who plans to pursue a residency in psychiatry.

Taking a lesson from impoverished nations

Photo Credit: Lwala Community Alliance

Photo Credit: Lwala Community Alliance

Siloam’s Community Health Immersion students worked to train refugee lay health workers for a more effective outreach to the refugee families in Nashville.  This work drew much of its inspiration from successful community health worker programs found in impoverished nations.

In a guest blog at Huffington Post, comments made by James Nardella (Lwala Community Alliance) resonate with our experience here in Nashville.

James writes:  “Scale and efficiency are important to moving health care goods and services….  But, when it comes to addressing the root causes for poor health in many places, scale can be a distraction. Delivering goods and services alone will not motivate people toward health seeking behavior.”  James goes on to point out that, “…health-seeking decisions are made at the family level.”

Read the full post of James’ excellent blog Heirloom Healthcare for the Poor by clicking here.

Lay health workers trained by Siloam students

“I‘m too much glad to see you because you are Nepali.” Greetings like this one from a Nepali man bring joy to 19-year old Anita Nepal who loves helping people in the Nepalese community of Nashville.  Anita, born in a refugee camp in Nepal to Bhutanese parents, was recently trained as a lay health worker by pre-medical students participating in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion program. Nashville’s Nepali community – mostly made up of refugees from Nepal and Bhutan – appreciate the cross-cultural understanding that Anita brings as she teaches within her community on the health topics she recently learned.

“Many of the Nepali people do not understand the health care system in America,” says Anita who works full-time in housekeeping at a local hospital. They struggle to know how to make appointments to see a doctor or how to get medicine from a pharmacy because as Anita says, “… in Nepal there were no appointments or prescriptions…you just show up and ask for what you need.”

“I learned many things – I can help many…”

For Siloam’s six-week Community Health Immersion program, pre-medical students were recruited from around the country to live in a refugee apartment complex in southeast Nashville where they trained nine lay health workers like Anita from the neighborhood. Training topics included preventative care like oral health, nutrition, and exercise, along with health navigation topics like how insurance works and the difference between an emergency room and a primary care clinic. Beyond learning how to teach lay health workers, the pre-medical students also explored how to see the vocation of medicine as a calling and to see how to care for patients as whole persons as Jesus did.

The pre-medical students’ work with the lay health workers is making a lasting impact.  The oral health topic alone made an immediate impact on Anita’s family of five who were resettled a year ago in Nashville after spending 21 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. “We did not know about dental floss or how many times each day to brush our teeth or for how long,” Anita says. “Now we do. I learned many things – I can help many Nepali and Bhutanese people.”

Lay Health Workers and CHI Students pose outside their apartment - 2014 - cropped

Pre-medical students and lay health workers pose outside following a training session. Lay health workers include (L-R) Samson Sarki from Bhutan (in turquoise), Paulos Ezekiel from Eritrea (in purple), and Anita Nepal from Nepal (in blue and red). Pre-medical students (L-R back row) include Will Davies, Stewart Goodwin, Kenny Namkoong, Frances Cobb, Caleb Huber, Will Tucker, along with Reinie Thomas (kneeling), and Lauren Roddy (in blue on right). Pre-medical student Chelsea Travis is behind the lens!

Off with a bang!

It has been quiet this week since our nine CHI participants (7 pre-meds and 2 directors) left town after spending an exciting six-weeks with us on a Community Health Immersion.  As we celebrate our nation’s independence this weekend, let’s also celebrate the ministry of presence that our freedoms allow us to carry out.  Check out this video that the students put together as a celebration of how God is moving in their lives as they prepare to be future physicians:

How Deeply Can You Be Immersed?

Guest blogger Chelsea Travis, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Living here in the Highlands Apartments, surrounded by a community of refugees and low-income neighbors, and being a part of an immersion-promoting program – I wonder are we truly immersed? Most would say yes, and I believe that would probably only be 60% right. In some ways, we are immersed. We are living in the same environment as the residents here which include: loud honking car noises at night, a “coins only” laundry mat, new and sometimes reckless drivers riding through the neighborhood, an always occupied soccer field, beautiful rose bushes, roaches, and very active ethnically diverse neighbors and children.

Neighbor children know that fun and attention await them just on the other side of the CHI students' back door.

Neighbor children know that fun and attention await them just on the other side of the CHI students’ back door.

Although we live here, many of us have things that most of these refugees do not. These aren’t simply tangible material items like cars, laptops, smartphones, an installed washer and dryer, or nice business clothes – of which we so often take for granted – but it’s even more than that. It is intangibles like nearby family, education, the ability to speak English with an American accent, our western clothes, and an established, if not assumed, reputation.

Having family nearby, even if they are 600 miles away, is such a great asset especially when compared to family members of refugees who could be thousands of miles away. Since starting this program I have received 2 packages from close family and friends back home that have been so beneficial to me. I cannot imagine not being able to draw from that life line of support because my family is either still in my war-torn country or they are scattered in various places around the world.

We often take for granted our educational experience as well. In this country the expectation is that people, especially young adults, attend college and even some schooling beyond that. The refugees whom we come in contact with actually have an array of educational backgrounds. Some have learned in educational institutions, some were apprentices of their parents or grandparents, and some have simply learned from the school of life.

Overall, it is interesting how education affects a person’s ability to adapt to new situations. It seems that individuals who have been challenged academically or have been conditioned to exercise their intellectual skills (even if only up to the high school level) are more able to adapt and learn new languages and systems. We don’t realize how valuable our education is. If we understood that not everyone in the world is afforded the opportunity to obtain even a high school education, we would not complain and be lazy about classwork, reading assignments, papers, or skill-granting liberal arts classes because we think we “don’t need” that coursework. Foolishness.

Highlands Kids 2 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Chelsea Travis, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina’s pre-medical program, poses with refugee children in the neighborhood.

Also the fact that we speak English fluently and with clear American accents and wear Western (American) clothing makes us less immersed when compared to the realities of our neighbors. Just the very fact that we possess these attributes causes us to obtain more respect, trust, or even assumed positive reputations. Without anyone really knowing us we probably could receive a loan, purchase a car, or get better job opportunities than our immigrant and refugee neighbors of comparable abilities. This is in part because when people do not adequately speak the dominant language of a society that person’s intellectual abilities are often assumed to be low. These judgments are too often made without even knowing the past professions and careers many of these refugees held in their former home countries – I’ve met former doctors, professors, and innovators.

One thing many of these refugees do have that I wish I could be further immersed in is their drive to survive and to thrive. They are so strong, enduring, humble, and passionate people. They want a better life for themselves, for their families, and for their home countries. I attended an English class being taught by and for Burmese people who wanted to take their U.S. citizenship exam. There were several young women present at this class – one had a baby tied on her back, another nursing a baby in her lap, and two with babies on the couch, and one child playing outside – and they were still so engaged in the class, flipping through their notes and answering questions. I was so inspired! They wanted this English lesson so badly they were not going to let anything distract them. Glory to God what a poignant lesson for my own life!

With everything that a refugee has endured throughout their lives including: wars, persecution, discrimination, and genocide, we will never be truly immersed enough to understand life in their shoes.