Dr. Charles Groomes started volunteering for The Addis Clinic in the fall of 2017 as a pediatric specialist. As a physician and U.S. Navy officer who is stationed overseas, he has a unique perspective on telemedicine, as he often uses technology to obtain specialty consults for his own patients. We are grateful for people like Dr. Groomes who see the need for and invest their time in The Addis Clinic.
As a physician and U.S. Navy officer stationed overseas, you have a very busy schedule and many responsibilities. What motivates you to spend extra time to consult other health care workers far away?
Currently, I serve as the "town pediatrician" for the approximately 500 children living on U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, at the very southeastern tip of Cuba. Specialty and critical care pediatric services are a 700 mile flight away in Miami, so I know firsthand what it's like to be far away from subject matter experts. Fortunately, Navy Medicine has a rich history of successfully navigating the inherent challenges of providing medical care in isolated and austere settings. Remote military clinicians use a telemedicine network called the Health Experts onLine Portal (HELP) to receive timely specialty consults from experts all throughout the Military Health System. I use HELP regularly, and am always sincerely grateful to receive expert guidance from my colleagues all over the world. Volunteering for The Addis Clinic allows me to pay that gratitude forward to frontline healthcare workers in places far more remote and austere than here.
How have you used your specialty so far in your work for The Addis Clinic?
The funny thing is, common things are common! Whether the patient is living in a large U.S. city or a small village in Haiti, kids get sick in many of the same ways. Most of The Addis Clinic cases on which I have consulted are for diagnoses I see a couple times per week in my regular pediatric practice. Of course, there are the more challenging cases that require geographic consideration, but I am finding the foundational elements of pediatric medicine are unchanged.
Why do you think an organization such as The Addis Clinic is needed?
Technology is making the world a smaller place. Being able to instantly communicate with people in the furthest reaches of our planet is incredibly exciting for sure, but it also brings us face-to-face with the profound, widespread need in less developed countries. I think The Addis Clinic realized something could be done about that, and I'm proud to be a small part of the solution.
What have you gained for your professional AND personal life so far by volunteering for The Addis Clinic?
I absolutely love my day job. Serving the very deserving children of the Guantanamo Bay community is truly a treasured responsibility. When I get an email notification that an Addis Clinic case has been assigned to me, however, it is just as special! I cherish the opportunity to expand my "community" to Haiti (about 120 miles east of here), Ethopia, and beyond. In many cases, I can recommend a very simple treatment that will dramatically change a child's life, and that of her family and community. I imagine the frontline health worker feeling empowered to make a difference in the same way that I do when a subject matter expert answers my consult request in the HELP network. It's cool to know that I can have that same bolstering effect as "just" a general pediatrician. Finally, I have a 4 and 2 year-old. After I complete consult for The Addis Clinic, we go look on the map to locate where the child lives. It makes them really excited and proud of their dad; I'm glad I can model an "others first" priority to them.
Is there one case you remember that was particularly impactful?
Each individual case is impactful in its own way, really, from the simple to the more complex. However, while it's certainly nice to help one kid with his condition, each case also provides a convenient context in which to give a little education to the frontline health worker. That happened recently on a case in Haiti where I explained the slightly different ways that scabies can present in very young kids. The frontline worker later told me that because she had just dealt with that case, she was quick to identify scabies in an entire family she encountered a few days later. Educating people that are "in the trenches" is a cool way clinicians like me can make a difference for years to come.
What would you tell other physicians considering volunteering with The Addis Clinic?
Do it! If you're worried about the time commitment, don't be. In the grand scheme, it's a drop in the bucket. But also, the time investment doesn't feel like a net negative. In fact, it is just the opposite! Also, don't feel like you have nothing to offer because you are "just" a generalist. The cases aren't intimidating challenges from deep in the annals of tropical medicine, they are largely the bread-and-butter things you do in your practice every day. Take the leap!
Thank You, Dr. Groomes!