Many miles from home, in the most remote corners of the world, our physicians, nurses and staff are making a difference.
“We are all part of the world’s community,” says Susan Kaye, MD, medical director of academic affairs for Atlantic Health System and chair of the Department of Family Medicine for Overlook Medical Center. It’s a tenet she takes to heart: When Dr. Kaye is not teaching or delivering health care to her own patients locally, she’s focusing her attention globally, ensuring that people in some of the most impoverished parts of the world have access to quality care.
For 20 years, Dr. Kaye has overseen the Benjamin H. Josephson, MD Fund, named in honor of pediatrician Benjamin Josephson, MD, one of the founding directors and mentors of the Overlook Family Medicine Residency Program. Upon Dr. Josephson’s death in 1998, a close friend of his, Donald Gant, who is a retired partner from Goldman Sachs and active in philanthropy, came forward and asked what could be done to memorialize Dr. Josephson. Dr. Kaye recommended that a foundation be formed for medical professionals who want to do humanitarian work, just as Dr. Josephson had been doing with disaster relief medicine in his retirement.
“The reason the fund exists is to empower individuals who have thought about medical volunteering but have not had the resources to do so,” explains Dr. Kaye. “The Josephson Fund becomes a conduit for that and gives them an experience that leads to a lifetime commitment of medical volunteerism, both overseas and right here at home.”
To date, the fund has dispersed nearly $1 million to more than 400 professionals – many of them from Atlantic Health System – on missions to more than 40 countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, Central America, China, India and more.
“When we first started, we were funding individual people. Over time we’ve matured, and now we also fund groups and projects,” says Dr. Kaye, who travels to Honduras twice a year as a global health volunteer with Shoulder to Shoulder, a group that delivers sustainable health, nutrition and education services. “We’ve seen more people from Atlantic Health System come together to work with the same organizations over and over again on sustainable projects in the same communities, not just one-off trips.”
By way of example, she cites Hands Up for Haiti, a medical humanitarian organization championed by Atlantic Health System pediatrician Mary Ann LoFrumento, MD. She also cites Morristown Medical Center’s chair of the Department of Surgery, Rolando Rolandelli, MD, who directs Unidad Hospitalaria Móvil Latinoamérica (UHMLA), physicians who deliver surgical interventions for people who would not have access to state-of-the-art surgery, “or any surgery at all,” says Dr. Kaye.
She points out that Josephson Fund volunteers travel to some of the most underserved and impoverished communities in the world, where many people live on less than $2 a day.
“We focus on developing sustainable resources in the community and try to impact all social determinants of health, not just medical care,” she says. The programs that are implemented – nutrition, dental, water purification, and education and scholarship programs – “leave a real footprint” on the communities where care is delivered.
“Periodic, acute medical care doesn’t do much,” says Dr. Kaye. “Our programs provide continuity and sustainability.” For those who give their time to volunteering in communities that otherwise lack medical care and other resources, the experience is both eye-opening and rewarding.
“These missions expose our volunteers to the deplorable conditions much of the world lives in, and how full of resources we are compared to other health care systems in the world,” says Dr. Kaye. “So many of our volunteers have gone back again. The fact that we get so many repeaters is so fulfilling. These are truly life-changing experiences for our volunteers and for those who receive their care.”