When I matriculated as a medical student in 2005, I knew I wanted an aspect of my career to address healthcare disparities abroad. In developing nations, treatable disease claims the lives of millions of people every year due to limitations in resources and personnel.
By my second year of medical school, I had identified anesthesia as my specialty of choice, and this raised the question: Is it even possible to be an anesthesiologist in an under-resourced country? After a quick search, I discovered anesthesia-related mortality rates can be 1,000 times greater in developing nations compared to the United States. I also learned there is a small, but dedicated, contingent of anesthesiologists laboring hard to make anesthesia safe and accessible in poor countries.
My next step was to find a mentor. When I reached out to the Anesthesiology department in 2008, I was promptly connected with Ellen Marie Dailor, M.D., and thus was the beginning of our mentoring relationship. During our first meeting, she mentioned that, as a relatively new attending, she rarely found herself as a mentor, and I reassured her that she would be perfect. Like me, her faith had led her to a deep concern for the poor. Like me, she had traveled extensively to pursue her passion. Like me she was female, and like me she was interested in anesthesia. As I saw it, our biggest difference was, unlike me, she was an expert in the field. Currently, she is both an associate professor and chief of Cardiac Anesthesiology.
Dr. Dailor’s first international medical mission trip was to Ecuador as a resident. She subsequently worked in Mexico, Honduras, and Cameroon. She regularly chisels out weeks of time to volunteer abroad, and she prefers to return to the same locations because “it becomes easier to understand the needs of a location when you have relationships there.”
Over the past seven years, we have met in offices, restaurants, homes, and operating rooms. We have discussed the weather, and the heart bypass machine. We have debated American politics and causes of African poverty. In October, 2013, Dr. Dailor returned to Africa, and I had the unique opportunity to work with her for four weeks in Shisong, Cameroon.
Cameroon is a modest Central African country with a population of 20 million, but less than 30 physician anesthesiologists. St. Elizabeth’s Catholic General Hospital has a Cardiac Center, the only facility of its kind in the region. Patients travel from as far as Ethiopia, a distance of more than 3,000 miles. Last year over 100 cardiac surgeries were performed in the facility, largely with the assistance of international surgical teams.
Dailor is the only anesthesiologist to have worked in Shisong continuously for six months, developing protocol and teaching staff in the intensive care unit. She has dealt with outdated and broken equipment, partially functioning monitors, a lack of supplies, and interruptions in water and electric service. While we were in the operating room, she would speak of methods to maintain safety protocols when facing these challenges. She never failed to emphasize diligence and a commitment to excellence.
Dailor is true to her convictions, and her commitment to the poor and underserved is a reminder of how to tailor my career to my passion. We may not always regard issues in the same light, but we maintain a mutual respect that permits honest discussion and, ultimately, growth. Dailor’s expertise in anesthesia, international health, education, and safety make her an asset not only patient care worldwide, but to medical students and residents here in Rochester.
Mouton (MD '10, RES '14) is continuing her training at Boston Children's Hospital.