The first 2 weeks of April were a chance for me to attend the biennial Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) conference in Greece with Andy and the kids – 9 days of dawn-till-dusk lectures updating doctors, surgeons, nurse practitioners and dentists in topics that are continually changing and improving how we provide care. Attendance provides some of the required “Continuing Medical Education” (CME) credit that doctors and nurses must undertake in order to retain their medical licenses.
Unlike conferences in the US or Australia, this one is different – it is aimed at Christian volunteer doctors like me, trained in the first world, but working in resource-poor settings abroad. Lectures about state-of-the-art diagnostic tests followed by lectures on how to write grants to get funding for your health program, sessions on the newest HIV medications followed by “how-to-make-your-own-equipment-with-a-coke-bottle-and-penknife”.
This was my 3rd CMDA conference since we moved to Kenya. Each time I attend I learn something new and improve my medical skills. But more than that, every time we go I return incredibly encouraged. Faces from around the world that become familiar – old friends from Kijabe who have now moved away with whom we get to reconnect and reminisce and laugh. Doctors serving in other resource-poor settings, who profoundly encourage me with stories of perseverance and courage, as well as re-center my perspective with their stories of trauma and grief. New arrivals in the field, to whom we are now veterans, asking our thoughts and advice about thorny issues in their settings.
Working in East Africa can feel lonely and futile sometimes – despite the incredible friends and colleagues and community, every day we are surrounded by too many sick people, not enough resources, and too little care too late. Too much death when in the US there would be life; too much disability and poverty when in Australia we’d see support and opportunity. Some days here feel like a drop in the bucket – really, what are we doing?
This important conference, attended by around 700 from all around Africa and the Middle East, allows us to ask these questions together and share our experiences. All of us in different pockets of the world each doing a little – but when we’re all in one room, it feels less insignificant as we talk with others who are doing what we’re doing, struggling as we’re struggling, trying to build sustainable foundations as we are trying to build sustainable foundations.
I am grateful, every time I attend this conference, for this joyous and necessary opportunity to learn, with so many incredible people, more about medicine, community, faith, grief, and perseverance.