Serving our Global Community on Medical Missions

Medical Missions

BWHers are known for reaching out to help those in need, even when they’re thousands of miles away. Many volunteer through organized programs like Team Heart and Operation Walk Boston, while others learn about opportunities through friends, family or colleagues at BWH. Pathology resident Brooke Howard, MD, and pathologists’ assistant Lindsey Cheney are two staff members who committed themselves to making global contributions this year. 

When she went into pathology, Howitt thought she was giving up her dream of global health work. To her surprise, she discovered many opportunities to do international pathology work when she arrived at BWH.

Howitt learned about an opportunity to volunteer in Malawi from pathologist Danny Milner, MD, assistant director of microbiology. When she arrived at the pathology lab in Blantyre, Malawi, for her seven-week stay, she found more than 100 specimens on a table waiting to be processed, and quickly set to work. While Howitt’s work was similar what she does at BWH, the resources available were very different. Many chemicals and equipment routinely accessible at BWH were not available in Blantyre, which often made exact diagnoses difficult.

A continent away in northwestern Nicaragua, Cheney also found that resources were in short supply during her volunteer work. Arriving with her sister and 20 other volunteers from across the U.S., Cheney began each day at 6:30 a.m. by loading a school bus with supplies and driving them to a local village. Once there, the group set up makeshift clinic, pharmacy, triage and waiting areas, and began seeing hundreds of patients with a variety of ailments—from allergies and diabetes to a dislocated shoulder.

Cheney’s work was organized by Palmetto Medical Initiative (PMI). PMI is a medical nonprofit dedicated to providing quality and sustainable health care to the people of Uganda and Nicaragua, while increasing the accessibility of global medical missions. Cheney learned of PMI through her sister, who is training to become a physician assistant and has classmates who volunteered with the organization.

Both Cheney and Howitt recall how gracious and thankful people were. They are both eager to do similar work in the future.
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In the meantime, they are thinking about how they can solve some of the problems they witnessed during their time abroad. Howitt says that formaldehyde, a preserving agent known to be cancer-causing among humans, is routinely dumped down drains because there is no way to dispose of it properly. “I would love to fix this,” says Howitt. “I haven’t come up with a solution yet, but I will keep thinking about it until I do.”