My story began at UMMC in 1989, in the 3rd grade, when my parents relocated to central Mississippi for my mom to teach Health Information Management in the School of Health Related Professions. I remember spending time with Mom in the old SHRP building and dreaming of becoming a doctor someday, specifically overseas. Before we moved to Mississippi, I had already drawn up blue prints for the “Amazon Hospital;” but I had no idea what an important role the Medical Center would play in making those budding global health dreams come true.
Even before medical school, UMMC gave me precious opportunities to get close to medicine. In high school I loved volunteering with UMMC’s smallest patients in the playroom in the old children’s hospital. One summer in college I got innumerable papercuts as a “file girl” for pediatric cardiology in the old hospital basement. I also got to attend grand rounds on my lunch breaks and to occasionally review echos with Dr. Charlie Gaymes.
When I interviewed for medical school, I shared my hopes for becoming a doctor and moving overseas to work in places with limited access to healthcare. Little did I know that my first semester of medical school at UMMC in 2002 would be the start of a 15-year run.
I started feeling at home in the Medicine Department as soon as I started following around brilliant medicine residents in the old adult hospital for Introduction to Clinical Medicine. The inimitable Dr. Jimmy Stewart was my preceptor, so it is no wonder that Med-Peds became my career choice. My husband Eric chose Emergency Medicine, and we imagined these specialties would serve us well in healthcare settings anywhere in the world.
As I was growing up at UMMC, the medical center was also growing up around me. My intern class broke in the “new” adult hospital in 2006. During residency, the Medicine Department gave me my long-awaited opportunity to make it to the Amazon through the annual Tropical Medicine elective.
Residency is also where I fell in love with teaching. After completing my training under the tutelage of my heroes in medicine, I was wildly honored to join them as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine. Over the next 7 years, I spent most of my time with residents and students – precepting in clinics and rounding on the wards. In residency and my first years as an attending, my superiors and colleagues in the Medicine Department consistently supported and nurtured my interest in global health. I began a monthly Global Health Grand Rounds and became the faculty advisor for the medical school’s Global Health Interest Group.
During that time Eric and I began to realize the potential impact of medical education overseas. Even with both our skillsets, we could only help so many people through direct patient care. We began looking for a place where we could work directly with patients and in healthcare education.
Through the incredible annual Global Missions Health Conference we connected with a sending organization, Serge. Most of Serge’s medical work is in Sub-Saharan Africa, and for good reason. Compared to the US, life in Sub-Saharan Africa is 20 years shorter, infant and child mortality rates are 10 times higher, and maternal mortality is 40 times higher. The contrast doesn’t end there, though. There are 13 times fewer doctors, and even fewer doctors who have the opportunity to specialize.
On a vision trip in 2016, Serge introduced us to AIC (African Inland Church) Litein Hospital, a well-established mission hospital in western Kenya. The hospital has been run by exemplary Kenyan leadership for decades, where they work steadfastly to provide excellent, compassionate care to everyone who comes their way. The hospital invited us to help them deepen their impact by providing specialized medical care and bolstering their education programs. Our many years of learning and working at UMMC gave us confidence as we took the next big step.
On Memorial Day 2018, we boarded a plane in Jackson with our 3 small children and moved to East Africa. We lived in Tanzania for 2 months for Swahili language school. We then moved to Kijabe, Kenya, to continue Swahili study and begin medical shadowing at the renowned AIC Kijabe Hospital.
On New Year’s Eve, we finally moved to Litein and have just begun the work that we dreamed to do long, long ago. Eric is the only emergency medicine specialist here, and there is only one other internist and one other pediatrician on staff at the hospital. We will be providing direct patient care, while investing heavily in teaching, empowering, and mentoring African medical trainees to reach exponentially more patients than we could ever touch with our own hands.
The nine months since our move have been a roller coaster of trials (stomach bugs, bed bugs, fleas, bureaucracy, homesickness, power and water outages) and triumphs (building relationships, language and cultural learning, completing renovations on our home, and adventuring with our kids). Leaving behind the camaraderie of long-time friends and colleagues and the comfort of knowing a complex medical system with many layers of back-up specialties and sub-specialties was really hard. I miss you all so much! Still, we know this is what we are supposed be doing and where we are supposed to be. I hope we can help build a similar culture of respect, kindness, inquisitiveness, and excellence that I experienced and loved in the Medicine Department for so many years.
Grace and peace,