Encouragement and education (26/4/16)

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.

It's nice to be in a place where men wearing shorts isn't culturally awkward!

It’s nice to be in a place where men wearing shorts isn’t culturally awkward!

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”.

Some highlights:

Practical sessions included ultrasound and recertifying in Advanced Pediatric Life Support - and connecting, through that training, with 3 more pediatric critical care doctors who will help us start East Africa's first training program . (http://depts.washington.edu/pecc/?page_id=3816)

Practical sessions included formal recertification in Advanced Trauma Life Support and Advanced Pediatric Life Support – and connecting, through that training, with 3 more pediatric critical care doctors who will help us start East Africa’s first training program in Pediatric ICU in Kenya.
(http://depts.washington.edu/pecc/?page_id=3816)

Two of the most meaningful sessions for me were discussing anxiety and depression in medical missionaries, and how we deal with the ongoing grief associated with constant ly walking with people through loss and death.  Being willing to acknowledge this weight, and to walk through it rather than pretend it isn't there.

Two of the most meaningful sessions for me were discussing anxiety and depression in medical missionaries, and how we deal with the ongoing grief associated with constantly walking with people through loss and death. Being willing to acknowledge this weight, and to walk through it rather than pretend it isn’t there.

the "Community Health" stream - how do we collect data and publish meaningful research when we barely have time to sleep?

The “Community Health” stream – a session on how do we collect data and publish meaningful research that shapes the global health conversation when we barely have time to sleep?

Andy leading a superb session on “Storage Tanks to Surgical Theatres – Successful Project Delivery for Health Care Missionaries”

Learning what the world literature says about Faith-based healthcare and the impact we are having on global health

Learning what the world literature says about faith-based institutions and the impact we are having on global health.

CMDA13

What have we learned from Ebola? A CDC expert chats about things we’ll do better next time, and why being on the front lines matters.

Kids' program - from 9-5 our kids played, learned, crafted, swam and made friendships with kids from around the world that are rekindled time and time again.

Kids’ program – from 8-4 our kids played, learned, crafted, swam and made friendships with 140 other kids from around the world that are rekindled time and time again.

Spoiled by treats and prizes and love from the volunteers in the kids program.

Spoiled by treats and prizes and love from the volunteers leading the kids’ program.

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.

– M.

Author: steeres

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