Dr. Arup Roy-Burman & Dr. Sheila Jenkins: From Traveling the World to Making a Global Impact
Global Healing is fortunate to have had many wonderful volunteers over the years. Thank you Dr. Arup Roy-Burman & Dr. Sheila Jenkins.
In the fall of 2001, Dr. Arup Roy-Burman and Dr. Sheila Jenkins set out to travel the world. Long interested in global health, the couple planned to spend four months in Asia, four in the U.S., and four in Latin America—looking for places around the globe where they could make a long-term difference.
Fortunately for Global Healing, Roy-Burman had been introduced to our organization a few years earlier while he was a critical care fellow at Children’s Hospital Oakland. In 1997, two doctors from Global Healing’s pediatric cardiac program in Tbilisi, Georgia, came to Children’s to shadow and receive training from doctors providing critical care to patients after heart surgery. Roy-Burman was among those doctors the team shadowed, and would later travel to Georgia with Global Healing to help the center grow its general pediatric surgery program.
As they traveled the globe, Roy-Burman, a pediatric intensive care specialist, and Jenkins, a pediatric neurologist, sought a place to create a global health program for physicians or physician trainees who were doing regular day-to-day medical care, rather than one-time surgery and post-operative care.
“We’d both wanted to do global health work during our pediatric medicine residencies at UCSF and Stanford but could not easily find opportunities,” Roy-Burman says. “Most international mission work is for surgeons. So we thought: How can we create a program in which young physicians or physician trainees who are not surgeons can also help those in need while developing a deeper understanding of the challenges of global health? With this in mind, we traveled around with an eye for a place where we could develop such a program.”
On a diving expedition off the coast of the Honduran island of Roatán, Roy-Burman and Jenkins struck up a conversation with the captain of the dive boat, Roatán native Alvin Jackson. Hearing that they were looking for a place to launch a volunteer-driven medical program, Jackson said, “If you really want to make a difference, you should do something here on the island. We have a big need for pediatrics on Roatán.”
From that conversation, the Roatán Volunteer Pediatric Clinic (RVPC) was born.
Jackson introduced the couple to the leadership of the public hospital, who supported the idea of creating a pediatric clinic. Roy-Burman and Jenkins extended their stay in Roatán, drafted a rough business plan, met other influential people on the island, and then pitched the idea to Global Healing. They saw it as a way for Global Healing to become a truly global organization, extending our reach now that the pediatric cardiac program—which had been renamed the Jo Ann Medical Center in honor of the late Global Healing founder Jo Ann McGowan—was thriving in Georgia.
Roy-Burman and Jenkins joined the Global Healing board and the clinic launched in July 2003. Since then, the clinic has conducted 50,000 patient-visits, with mothers who were served there as children now coming in with their own children.
Over the years the clinic has been headed up by three medical directors in addition to Roy-Burman—Dr. Tanya Nauenberg, Dr. Eric Scher, and Dr. Howard Gruber along with his wife Alice Gruber, a former member of the Global Healing board—while Roy-Burman has continued to play a key role in the clinic’s success. He recruited the initial volunteer resident physicians, with over 100 residents from around the U.S. eventually coming through the clinic.
He also saw to it that undergraduates could volunteer in the clinic as well through a program with Stanford, eventually creating the Health Education and Advocacy Liaison (HEAL) internship for college students. True to our mission, the Roatán clinic also provides an opportunity for local physicians to receive training in pediatrics from our faculty and resident volunteers through a year-long fellowship program, developing greater long-term pediatric expertise on the island.
Now Roy-Burman hopes to see Global Healing do more to leverage our academic partnerships. “The RVPC is a global health studio,” he says. “Everybody knows the clinic and Global Healing— we have developed trust with the community. There’s only one public health system so people don’t move in and out. Roatán is a microcosm for global health issues, not just in health care but also in all the other determinants of health. We have a unique opportunity with an isolated population to study specific global health challenges and interventions, and do so in a transdisciplinary manner, engaging both clinical professions and non-clinical academic disciplines.”
The benefits of the RVPC go far beyond the island community. Hundreds of volunteers —physicians, residents, nurses, undergrads—have had their first global health experience in Roatán. “We really opened their eyes to what it’s like in other parts of the world,” Roy-Burman says. “For many of them, the RVPC provided an initial spark, motivating them to go on and do much more to both serve those in need and to advance understanding in the global health sciences.”
Roy-Burman’s two decades of service to Global Healing extend from Georgia to Roatán and beyond. During his 15 years on our board, he has been a big supporter of our blood safety program, which helps countries that have minimal blood banking infrastructure to create modern and safe blood programs essential to undertaking major surgeries as well as being able to handle traumas.
As Roy-Burman notes, our blood safety program started in Tbilisi, expanded into Armenia, and is now offered in many places around the world.
“It’s our biggest program and the program with which we’ve been able to be truest to our mission,” Roy-Burman says. “We come in, help create a sustainable program that the community can carry on, and then we move on to do the same thing somewhere else.”
As for Global Healing’s work in Georgia, Roy-Burman says, “It’s nice to see that as we’ve been able to build successes in the program and increase their capabilities, they have been able to acquire higher levels of equipment to support more complicated surgeries and diagnostics. Now we’re on a campaign to build a whole new facility there.”
For these and the many other accomplishments he helped us achieve, Global Healing extends our deepest gratitude to Dr. Arup Roy-Burman as he steps down from the board after over 20 years of service to the organization. We also deeply appreciate the important contributions of Dr. Sheila Jenkins to Global Healing. We wish them both the best!
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