Dr. Ann Colbert is a family medicine and palliative care/hospice physician who is currently based out of Kentucky. Dr. Colbert has served as a family medicine specialist volunteer for The Addis Clinic and has also referred cases to The Addis Clinic as the medical director for Hillside Health Care International in the Toledo District of Belize. She has a unique perspective as both a specialist and a referrer, and we are excited to share her experiences with The Addis Clinic!
Q: As a practicing physician, you have a very busy schedule and many responsibilities. What motivates you to spend extra time to consult on cases for other health workers far away?
A: First, consulting on the cases takes relatively little time. Second, with each case history, I am reminded that both life and medicine are very different and very much harder in these other places.
Q: How have you used your specialty so far in your work for The Addis Clinic?
A: As a specialist volunteer, I have mostly answered primary care management questions. As a referrer to The Addis Clinic while in Belize, I used dermatology, pediatrics, gastroenterology and orthopedics.
Q: Why do you think an organization such as The Addis Clinic is needed?
A: Using technology makes the most sense in addressing the disparities of unequal health care throughout the world. Having traveled internationally to work as a physician, I see that temporary physician visits are not a permanent solution to providing quality care to remote areas. Using telemedicine, whether within a country or globally, makes a lot of sense to fill the gaps.
Q: What have you gained for your professional AND personal life so far by volunteering for The Addis Clinic?
A: I like being associated with an organization that I can fully support and feel I have gained a new perspective on global health because of my association with the group.
Q: Is there one case you remember that was particularly impactful?
A: I remember we had a 5-month-old baby in Belize who had been born with bilateral severe club feet and his parents were not able to take him to Belize City for treatment. Our physical therapy director put in a consult and within days she had a complete treatment plan from one of the orthopedics. The consultant had included a detailed description of the Ponseti method with helpful warnings and advice. We were able to start the casting with weekly recasting at home for a few weeks until the child eventually was able to get to the larger center. I saw the baby a few months later and his feet were nearly straight. It was a condition I rarely would manage in the US.
Q: What would you tell other physicians considering volunteering with The Addis Clinic?
A: That the commitment of a maximum of 3 cases per month is very manageable and if you want to ecologically responsibly help distant patients, this form of global work may make more sense than the short term "mission" trips. This is because The Addis Clinic system can help to build the capacity of a local medical team to provide quality health care in their own country.
Q: We know you recently returned to volunteer at Hillside Health Care International, a partner of The Addis Clinic in Belize where you previously served as Medical Director. How was your trip?
A: I returned to Hillside Health Care International in southern Belize for two weeks in late May of 2018. I went to volunteer as a physician preceptor for the Physician Assistant students who were on rotation at the Hillside Clinic. I had been the Medical Director at the clinic in 2016- 2017 so the trip was a reunion with the staff and many patients. We were quite busy seeing patients both in the permanent clinic and on daily mobile clinics to remote mostly Mayan villages. It was nice to share my previous experience with the students who were in their first weeks of the 4-week rotations.
I worked with two physicians from England the first week and we were happy to be able to send at least two cases for dermatology consult through The Addis Clinic and I was able to call up one mother the very next day to tell her what new therapy was suggested. That is what I like about working at Hillside Clinic - getting to know people from all over who either come to volunteer or come as students plus getting to know the Belizean staff who are the constant. I was also able to reconnect with 3 of the long-term volunteers I had worked with and we arranged to camp in a jaguar reserve one weekend next to a mountaintop waterfall. Belize is a beautiful country.