Recently, Julie Niezgoda, MD, returned with her daughter, Sara, from their third mission trip together to Guatemala, where they provide free medical services to adults and children. Each time, they are reminded of the ways in which we can impact the lives of people throughout the world, and of what we take for granted medically in the United States.
Malnourishment, untreated medical conditions
This is indeed a noble cause where doctors are working for the benefit of mankind without any expected selfish motives of personal gain or simply profiting off the ailments of their patients. We truly need more people like this mother-daughter combo in our society, especially in the medical profession, where we find innumerable patients dying everyday not only from fatal maladies but diseases that are found to be appallingly preventable. This can truly be considered a medical marketing best practices session where other doctors can learn something for humanitarian causes.
Over time, Dr. Niezgoda, a pediatric anesthesiologist, and Sara, a fourth-year medical student, have developed an understanding for the Guatemalan culture, and this allows them to better care for their patients. For example, Guatemalan families distribute food according to a hierarchy, with the mother being served last, and because of this, many mothers tend to be malnourished during pregnancy, causing problems for their unborn babies. So when they aren’t in the operating room, Dr. Niezgoda and Sara try to educate women on the importance of eating healthfully during pregnancy.
Also, because medical care is not readily available to most Guatemalans, problems that should’ve been treated during infancy require multiple, more complex procedures. As a result, Dr. Ross, who performs these procedures, as well as other team members, develop ongoing relationships with some of their patients in Guatemala.
A special blend of innovation and quality
For U.S. physicians, it requires some creativity to practice overseas. This is because in third-world countries, such as Guatemala, medical care might be provided in clinics with dirt floors, a single room for patient beds and operating rooms the size of a small office. Dr. Niezgoda, in some cases, has fashioned medical equipment from supplies such as tubing and tape. “It’s sort of like working with Legos,” she says.
But even in a clinic where surgical masks, intubation tubes and gloves are washed and reused, quality is a top priority. “We have a very high standard, and we would never do anything there that we wouldn’t do in the United States,” says Dr. Niezgoda. “We don’t have the backup, so we have to be especially careful.”
Nothing better than a heartfelt thank-you
Though Dr. Niezgoda and Sara agree that it is more difficult to practice medicine in Guatemala than back home, the payoff makes it worth the effort. “The families are so grateful for everything,” says Sara. And although conditions in the healthcare clinics aren’t ideal, complaints are rare. “There will be a line a city block long outside the door,” says Dr. Niezgoda. “These people will wait and wait, and you’ll never hear them say a word about it.”
Guatemalan staff are equally devoted, working 60 to 70 hours a week and earning $200-250 per month, says Dr. Niezgoda. “They are so proud of their work and accomplishments, and they are always striving to improve.” And this, she adds, is one of the greatest accomplishments of medical missions – “to help others acquire the expertise to deliver medical care.”