Volunteer Voice: How to Diagnose Change

Each week this month, we're bringing you fresh perspectives on ASRI's work from some of the people who know it best: our volunteers. Drs. Karin Gunther and Lori Chow joined Health In Harmony on a journey to ASRI, March 9-19, 2014.  We had a chance to reflect with Dr. Karin on her 2008 volunteer experience at ASRI and contrasts with 2014 (below). In a separate interview we talk to Dr. Lori about her sponsorship of Dr. Ron's residency and how Dr. Ron views his future including a long-term commitment to ASRI.

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Dr. Karin and Ceswi the orangutan at the Camp Leakey Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Tanjung Puting National Park.

Dr. Karin and Ceswi the orangutan at the Camp Leakey Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Tanjung Puting National Park during her 2014 trip to ASRI.

Karin first came to ASRI through the Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars Program, and was admittedly attracted by the orangutan angle. But she came to learn so much more.

Michelle Bussard: What compelled you to return?

Dr. Karin Gunther: This place really touched me when I was here in 2008 and I wanted to see how it had grown. I think I'm really shocked, in a good way, with how much expansion there's been!

MB: You were here in 2008 and 2014, what are the changes you've observed?

KG: When I was here in 2008, I worked in the clinic and never was exposed much to the conservation work that was just getting going. Then, there were two Indonesian doctors, Peter Mayland, a psychiatrist from the US and me. And everything from morning meeting to rounds to cooking and sharing lunch happened in the one building.

Dr. Karin and Dr. Nur at ASRI

Dr. Karin and Dr. Nur at ASRI

Today, I think the Indonesian doctors are staying longer than in 2008 and there seems to be more knowledge. For example, when I was here in 2008, I thought 'let's look it up in a book,' but I didn't see any being used in diagnoses. I didn't understand until I toured the Puskasmas (hospital) and noticed that there were no medical reference books anywhere. Later I learned that patients didn't think a doctor using a book is a good doctor! Right around that time, we had a patient with left-side paralysis of her face. At the Puskasmas they'd diagnosed stroke but after I showed ASRI's Indonesian doctors to consult the medical texts with me, the diagnosis was clearly Bell's Palsey. I didn't need to say anything else! And we began the patient on a treatment of steroids and anti-viral medication.

Also, in 2008 we only had basic cell phones that worked intermittently, if that. Now, ASRI has a smart phone that can do an EKG and I've been super pleased to see how frequently Dr. Nur and Dr. Ron are consulting the medical text books and using technology to access the best medical thinking. And it's really exciting that Dr. Nur and Dr. Vina have had fellowship opportunities in the US.

MB: What do you think the magic sauce is? 

KG: I think part of what's important is asking the people what they really need.  And I have to say it's a strange vision to combine health care with saving the rain forest, but when you understand how those two pieces go together, it makes total sense.

Morning meetings were smaller in 2008 and we'd gather in the middle room behind the reception area -- it held all of us then!  Then and now though, including everyone no matter their job or rank and  letting everyone speak promotes team atmosphere and a feeling that we all want to make this succeed. I think that's part of the secret sauce.

And the vision, it really turned out to be such a good one that it attracts people who are willing to invest their big hearts in this place ..... like ASRI Kids and Goats for Widows. I was so excited watching Etty lead ASRI Kids and those kids were so excited.

Dr. Karin demonstrating suture techniques at the ASRI clinic.

Dr. Karin demonstrating suture techniques at the ASRI clinic.

MB: If you came back in 6 years, what would you hope to see at ASRI?

KG: I can see a hospital being important here for both better health care and training. I can also see replicating, maybe not copying ASRI exactly as it is here but in response to the different needs and challenges elsewhere... That adaptability is what I think is brilliant about this approach.

I'd hope the community would be even healthier, that there was no illegal logging and a deeper appreciation of the value of what is being protected. And I hope that listening to the community will never stop.

Like I said, Kinari had a great vision and has been a great leader. The sign of a good leader is not being afraid to surround themselves by good talent because essentially when the leader is gone, you want to leave a legacy and continue to grow even without that leader. ASRI is showing it can.

April is our Volunteer Voices month, where we showcase the hard-working volunteers making ASRI a truly global community of people dedicated to the health of our planet. Want to support our volunteer program? Make a donation today. Every dollar is multiplied many-fold in work hours and expertise donated.

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About Michelle Bussard | View all posts by Michelle Bussard

Michelle is the Executive Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.