Jane Scribner 2017-08-11 01:05:23
My six-and-a-half-month humanitarian experience began in 2015 as a Navy officer in support of the Continuing Promise mission to 11 countries in the Caribbean and Central America. In the military, one is often given opportunities to support a unique mission. During these missions, we can expand our comfort zone, our level of commitment to service for our patients, our colleagues, and our country. During my time in the Caribbean, the need of each patient in front of us was so great it was impossible to think of only ourselves. In each country, my support staff and I were tireless, often working from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. outdoors in the tropical heat, with long transits between the ship each morning and evening. The transportation of all the medical, dental, and support staff was often delayed waiting for us in dermatology to finish one last surgery, or treat one last basal cell carcinoma, or pack the last wound on one more little girl — with pressure ulcers on her heels from poorly fitting shoes and a history of myelomeningocele. Nearly every day, I remember a patient or a case from those six-and-a-half months. These memories are not always of successful encounters; for example, we could do very little to help the man disfigured by neurofibromatosis, or the four-year-old boy with xeroderma pigmentosum, or the young girl with cutaneous tuberculosis. But we could counsel the woman with albinism, remove the large lipoma on the forehead of a man in Jamaica (he could then wear his hat in the field again), and treat many cases of fungus. I have hung photos of the ship, my team in Belize, Jamaica, Panama, and the beautiful children of Haiti, in my exam rooms. When I enter the exam room — predictably a few minutes behind — patients frequently have questions about who is in the photos and who was in the Navy, and often have their own tales to tell of their military time, international travels, and humanitarian work. It changes the dynamic immediately and often grants me common ground with the patient to help begin our relationship. Patients are often much more welcoming of me as a new provider in the community knowing that I’ve had a broad experience globally before settling in Washington state. (The “sea stories” are also a good distractor to keep those awake who are prone to fainting with procedures!) In the day-to-day drudgery of private practice, prior authorizations, limitations of insurance companies, wait times for care, and the frustrated patient, I reflect on my six-and-a-half months away from my family, and I will be honest, I miss many aspects of it. I miss the camaraderie, the shared purpose, the practice and art of medicine and dermatology in its purest form, the challenge of having only morphology to guide us, and very few topical and oral medications and minor surgical kits to do the greatest good for as many patients as possible. Working in such an environment was exhausting and intimidating, but also humbling, motivating, rewarding, and inspiring. "Nearly every day, I remember a patient or a case..." – Jane Scribner, MD "Working in such an environment was exhausting and intimidating, but also humbling, motivating, rewarding, and inspiring." – Jane Scribner, MD I’ve tried to incorporate those feelings in my current job. Since becoming a civilian, I have volunteered for free skin cancer screenings at a local cancer center, as well as at an educational booth at a Relay for Life event. The Academy does so much in its support of us as residents and new staff, and also to support the education and care of our patients. Even a few hours volunteering at a free skin cancer screening can have a profound impact on a patient’s health and well-being. During the most recent free screening event that I participated in here in my home town, I was reminded of how rewarding it is to have a patient give such heartfelt thanks for my care of them. We are truly blessed to be able to practice in such an amazing field every day, and it does not take an international mission to feel motivated and buoyed by the benefits of volunteering. Jane Scribner, MD, has been a dermatologist at the Walla Walla Clinic in Walla Walla, Washington for the past year after fulfilling her service obligation to the United States Navy in San Diego, at Great Lakes in Illinois, and abroad with humanitarian issues. She spoke about her humanitarian efforts in a special session at the 2016 AAD Summer Meeting in Boston, and is now sharing her story for this issue of Aspire.
Published by American Academy Of Dermatology. View All Articles.