Reacting to a crisis is one way to improve care around the world; another is to create relationships with physicians abroad. Steven Koop, an orthopedic surgeon at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, has traveled to Ecuador every year for the last nine years. He cares for children there and has formed professional relationships with South American physicians.
“It’s essential to share your skills and talents with others,” Koop says. “The work that I do is quite specialized. That special knowledge is not widely available in some areas. By going [to Ecuador], there’s an opportunity to give that community some of the resources we have in the United States.”
Koop keeps in touch with the physicians he meets abroad, and sometimes they travel to Minnesota. “I’ve received a number of visiting physicians who come to Gillette because it’s an international hospital,” he says. “They come to see what we do, and they take that knowledge back to their community.”
Jennifer Welsh is another doctor with ties abroad. She practices family medicine at Fairview Clinics in New Brighton and volunteers with Mano a Mano, a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul that improves the health and economic well-being of Bolivians. Welsh traveled to Bolivia for the first time in March, and what she saw inspired her to get involved.
“Bolivia has the highest infant mortality rate in South America,” Welsh says. “Lots of people die from preventable diseases due to malnutrition and poor water quality. And there is no public health infrastructure supported by the government in terms of building clinics.”
Mano a Mano builds medical clinics in rural areas, but it needs to train physicians to ensure the clinics succeed. That’s where Welsh comes in. “I’m working with people outside the medical field to help them understand how different health care is in Bolivia than it is here,” Welsh says. “I’ve been thinking about how to get health care providers to participate in Mano a Mano to help Bolivians.”
Koop and Welsh share a common goal: to help doctors in poor countries improve and sustain care for patients.
“I hope what I can provide will last beyond me,” Welsh says. “It isn’t just about me showing up on a particular day to do an assigned task. What I can give can go beyond that encounter and help shape how things are going to be easier in the future.”
Helping at Home
Twin Cities doctors volunteer in our community, too. Inspiring young men and women to pursue careers in medicine is a passion for Elizabeth Arendt, an orthopedic surgeon who works at the University of Minnesota and TRIA Orthopaedic Center. Despite her busy schedule, she makes time to mentor local high school and college students.
“Anyone who wants to shadow me, I try to find a spot for them,” Arendt says. Her students observe surgery in the operating room and interview patients on occasion. Through these experiences, Arendt hopes students can envision themselves with a career in medicine.
“Many of these students want to be physicians, but not all. I’ve had students who’ve gone on to be nurses or work in public health,” Arendt says. “It’s rewarding to see something click. They start to see the future a little bit differently.” Like Arendt, most doctors are motivated to give back.
“One of the misconceptions people have is that doctors are just too busy to do volunteer work,” Welsh says. “I cannot name a physician I know who doesn’t volunteer in some way. It’s not always medical volunteer work. Sometimes it’s work at their church or child’s school. People go into medicine because they want to help others.”