In the Loop

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November 22nd, 2013

Science knows no country

By In the Loop

As we all know, the Mayo brothers said some pretty forward-thinking things about medicine and patient care. One of their snappier sayings, and one that happens to fit nicely with this story, is: "Science knows no country." It's something William J. Mayo, M.D., is rumored to have said back in 1916 while talking about his family's belief that medicine is a "transcendent profession" not limited by things like geography or culture. "Good health," they believed, "is an ideal shared by all people." People like Thomas Howell Jr., M.D., of Mayo Clinic Health System in Faribault, who recently spent 10 days in Jalapa, Nicaragua, helping the local community maintain its health by providing medical services and education.

This wasn't Dr. Howell's first time in Jalapa, according to Catherine Roberts, a public affairs specialist in Faribault who penned a short piece on Dr. Howell's trip for the Faribault Daily News. The first trip came in 1999, Roberts writes, when Dr. Howell traveled there as part of the Interfaith Service to Latin America (ISLA), a "nongovernmental organization that partners with Latin American communities" for "health care, education and construction efforts." On his most recent trip, he was accompanied by his daughter, Katy, and a few of her medical school classmates from the University of Minnesota- Duluth. "I had visited Jalapa with ISLA in 1999 and had been looking for an opportunity to go back," Dr. Howell says. "It just happened to work out that the University of Minnesota was sending a small group of medical students there, and my daughter happened to be one of them. It was a great opportunity."

Dr. Howell says his daughter and her classmates lent their hands and medical know-how to workers at the local clinic in Jalapa, and helped educate workers at a local tobacco factory about ways to stay healthy. "They also did diabetic education in the community and sexually transmitted disease education in the schools," he says. And they had an opportunity "to visit with local public health workers around Dengue fever control efforts in the community."

Dr. Howell spent much of his time doing outpatient procedures, and routine gynecological exams and testing. "He also met with the local Nicaraguan OB-GYN and clinic administration staff to learn more about their needs and those of the Jalapa community," Roberts writes. It was just the kind of integrated, personalized medical assistance and care communities like Jalapa often need, but don't always get, Dr. Howell says. "Many aid organizations swoop in, put Band-Aids on everything, and leave," he says. "But I think we need a sustainable system that does a better job of figuring out exactly what these communities need instead of bringing in things they don't need, want or can't use."

That idea lines up nicely with the guiding principles of Mayo Clinic Abroad, which is all about offering "an integrated and coordinated humanitarian effort around the world." And it's work Dr. Howell says he's very much looking forward to continuing through Mayo Clinic Abroad.

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