Hospitalist Vincent DeGennaro, Jr., MD, MPH, didn’t train as an oncologist. But during the course of his daily duties at the Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he administers chemotherapy at the hospital’s women’s cancer center.
“Chemotherapy was outside the realm of my specialty, but under the training and remote consultation of U.S. oncologists, I have become more comfortable with it,” says Dr. DeGennaro, an assistant professor in the division of hospital medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville. Along with performing echocardiograms and working in Haiti’s only ICU, it’s an example of how global health forces him to be a “true generalist.” That’s also true of hospital medicine. In fact, the flexible schedule hospital medicine offers was a deciding factor in his career choice. Shift work in a discrete time period would allow him, he reasoned, to also follow his passion of global health.
Volunteering in low-resource settings was something that “felt right to me from the beginning,” Dr. DeGennaro says. He worked in Honduras and the Dominican Republic during medical school, mostly through medical missions organizations. Work with Partners in Health during medical school and in Rwanda after residency exposed him to the capacity-building goals of that organization. He now spends seven months of the academic year in Haiti, where he is helping Project Medishare (www.projectmedishare.org) in its efforts to build capacity and infrastructure at the country’s major trauma hospital. In July, he will be supervising clinical fellows as the director of the University of Florida’s first HM global health fellowship program.
Haitian patients have to pay for their own tests, so Dr. DeGennaro must carefully choose those that will guide his management decisions for patients. “Low-resource utilization forces you to become a better clinician,” he says. “I think we have gotten intellectually lazy in the United States, where we can order a dozen tests and let the results guide us instead of using our clinical skills to narrow what tests to order.”
Delivering care in under-resourced countries, he adds, has changed him: “I’m a much better doctor for it.”
Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer in California.