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No one understands what drives our exceptional volunteers, all highly skilled professionals, to rearrange their lives to assist in our conservation and public health initiatives quite like Dr. Jesse Turner. He committed to spending 6 months out of the year at ASRI helping run the clinic, after volunteering in 2013.
In February, I spoke with Dr. Jesse, before he left for two months at ASRI, and Kari Malen, our International Volunteer Manager, about what he'll be doing at the clinic, what that means for our volunteer program, and the importance of international exchange to ASRI's work. (Read the first part of our conversation on international exchange with ASRI's Dr. Vina Wang, here.)
Kelsey Hartman: Jesse, what made you decide to come back to ASRI for 6 months of every year? That's a big decision!
Dr. Jesse Turner: Doing this type of work has always been my goal. I originally studied the effect of the environment on human health as an environmental anthropologist, but after getting to speak with some very inspiring people in the public health field like Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners In Health, I decided to go into medicine. A good friend of mine, Dr. Nishant Shah, happened to do his residency with Dr. Kinari Webb at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and told me about ASRI. I already knew I wanted to work in developing areas, and I'd set up my life to be able to work about half the year in the US, and half the year with international communities. I was scouting for international sites when I heard about ASRI; it was the first place I visited and just happened to be a uniquely good fit. I'm excited about the work and being back at ASRI - I can't wait to see everyone again!
KH: Could you tell us more about what you will be doing at ASRI? How will your position be different from a volunteer's?
JT: I'll know more after I've been doing it for a few months! I'm more or less filling the Chief Medical Officer position, in conjunction with Dr. Vina, for Dr. Kinari, to free her up to concentrate on other areas of her work.
I volunteered at ASRI last fall, supporting the Indonesian physicians: doing rounds, helping outpatients, and participating in the daily teaching sessions where volunteers share their expertise with the ASRI staff. In this new position, I will add a layer of administrative work on top of that, supporting the clinic and prepping for the hospital. In the next few months especially, I'll take advantage of Dr. Ron and Dr. Nur still being at the clinic, absorbing as much of their institutional knowledge and expertise in treating patients in rural Indonesia as possible before they leave to do their residencies.
KH: Kari, as the volunteer manager, could you explain the importance of having Dr. Jesse on site?
Kari Malen: We're striving to create more consistency in our medical program to keep everything running smoothly as we continue to grow. The general plan for most of our Indonesian doctors is to come serve at ASRI for a year before moving on. [Note: The Indonesian government offers incentives to new doctors to work in underserved areas like Sukadana. One of ASRI's goals is to serve as a training center in holistic, high-quality rural health care with an environmental focus for these talented young doctors looking to start their careers across Indonesia.] We've been trading internships and capacity building trips to the US, like Dr. Vina is doing now, with commitments to staying longer at ASRI. Having Jesse at ASRI will add another layer of continuity that we need.
Having Jesse on site will also be a big help to the volunteer program. Many of our medical volunteers come from the Yale Medical School's Global Health rotation, and from the Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars Program. Both require an approved preceptor on site, a role Dr. Kinari and Dr. Nur used to share, and one we're hoping Dr. Vina and Dr. Jesse will take on. It's helpful to have a staff member who has a deep understanding of how American medical programs work to facilitate communications as well. We're popular with those programs and want to keep those relationships going!
KH: Jesse, as a former volunteer, why do you think this program's important?
JT: The volunteer program builds a global healthcare community. It's a way for doctors to see that sick people are the same the world over, and brings us all closer together, strengthening compassion worldwide.The program builds capacity in the Indonesian staff, but it's not a one-way street: volunteers learn just as much from ASRI staff, and are hopefully inspired to follow their example and do similar work!
KH Kari, what's your take?
KM: Like Jesse said, the learning goes both ways. Volunteers and ASRI staff get a chance to see how medicine is approached on different sides of the globes, but it goes deeper than that. It's a chance to understand how others live. Almost all volunteers are still involved with ASRI: they provide training programs for ASRI staff, come back to Sukadana, and help in any way they can. There really is a family bond across the globe - it's remarkable, and it is what makes what we do work.
Thank you to Dr. Jesse and Kari for sharing your thoughts!