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Access to Well-Trained Physicians is a Right, Not a Privilege Access to Well-Trained Physicians is a Right, Not a Privilege

Access to Well-Trained Physicians is a Right, Not a Privilege

by Laura Gwathmey
January 14, 2014

About two months after my son was born last year, I noticed that he was fussy and tugging at his ears. As a new mother, my instinct was to trump off to his pediatrician’s office, to confirm that he had an ear infection. He prescribed an antibiotic dose to clear it up. While not thrilled at the prospect of giving my newborn a drug therapy, we returned home and I prepared the initial dose. 

In my sleep deprived state, I read the dosage – 45 ML – and began to administer it. After having given my son 20 ML of the antibiotic, I noticed that it seemed to be a lot of liquid, for such a small baby. With a closer reading of the label and a call to his doctor, she confirmed that I was way off – it was actually a dosage of 4.5 ML that I had to give him. I panicked, even while following her instructions to keep him hydrated and wait for the drug to pass through his system.    

Looking back, I realize that this situation was not life threatening, although I didn’t know that at the time. My saving grace was a properly trained doctor who was educated about the impact of this antibiotic. She reassured me that this particular drug was rarely lethal and that my son would be fine.   

I think about this experience often in my job as a program director with Physicians for Peace, an organization that transforms lives through training, supporting, and empowering healthcare professionals working with the world’s underserved populations.  

Here the in United States, when a medical emergency arises, minor or major, there is no replacement for a trained medical professional.  When an expectant mother goes into labor and needs a C-section, chances are her doctor will be on call to deliver at a well-equipped hospital. But what about the approximately 800 women that die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – 99 percent of which live in developing countries where access to quality healthcare is limited? This is only one example.  From burn care and disabilities, to preventative care and surgery, we cannot underestimate the value of well-trained, well-resourced healthcare. This is true in the Unites States and it’s true in the developing countries where Physicians for Peace works. 

But a change is needed. Often times when we think of delivering lifesaving healthcare in developing countries, we think about a doctor visiting a community, operating and returning home.  A life is saved but could that doctor make a greater impact and save more lives? 

Enter Physicians for Peace. We believe that the impact is not just in one surgery but in training local healthcare professionals – nurses, midwifes, surgeons, physical therapists – and providing them with the skills needed to deliver ongoing quality healthcare long after the visiting physician leaves. It’s a model based on three principles: Train, support, and empower. These efforts are intertwined, so that training is supported by solid partnership and sustaining support, and continues until health professionals and institutions are fully equipped to serve their communities. This model means that one visiting physician is contributing to the lifesaving care of many. It is a multiplier effect.

Access to quality healthcare in the developing world can make a world of difference and training is the key. Empower a healthcare professional with training and they in turn share that knowledge with patients and colleagues. Such training saved lives in Eritrea, where Physicians for Peace partnered to establish a pediatric residency program. When we left in 2010, the program was sustained by the Ministry of Health and there were twice as many pediatricians in the country as there were before we entered. In the Dominican Republic, teenage mothers are mentored by Resource Mothers, trained community health workers who advise them on safe pregnancy and infant care. In other countries, we’ve taken rehabilitative technicians and equipped them with both theoretical and practical knowledge, transforming their practices to help them serve more disabled amputees, burn victims, and the visually impaired. And we know that when our medical educators leave, they are leaving a community with stronger and more qualified healthcare services.  

I think back to that terrifying night with my son and how lucky I was to have the support of a well-trained physician. This access should be a right deserved by people everywhere, not a privilege based on socioeconomic status. If we can change the conversation and empower local healthcare professionals with critical training, together we can save more lives. 

Visit www.physiciansforpeace.org to learn more about how we’re empowering a workforce through lifesaving training in underserved communities around the world.  

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