By Mrs. Sheila C Gideon (SMDC/ARSTRAT)February 8, 2013
U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - "Our mission statement is that we bring hope and healing to a needy world," said Allan Gathercoal, president and founder of the Flying Doctors of America.
For more than 20 years, Flying Doctors of America has been bringing together physicians, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, other health professionals and non-medical support volunteers to care for people who otherwise would never receive professional medical care. They were recently in the Republic of the Marshall Islands for two weeks to provide medical clinics on Majuro, Ebeye and six outer atolls: Ujae, Lae, Wotho, Arno, Jaluit and Wotje.
The Flying Doctors were brought in through RMI Ambassador to the U.S., Charles Paul. One of Paul's objectives when he became ambassador was to look for doctors and bring them into the RMI.
"I got the opportunity to meet and develop a working relationship with … [the] Flying Doctors of America," he said. "We're working to develop a long-term relationship to bring in U.S. board certified doctors to work in the RMI on a volunteer basis.
"The state of health in the Marshall Islands is something that needs to be worked on heavily," Paul said. "We have a lot of sick people in the Marshall Islands, and we just don't have the necessary resources that are needed to bring in top-quality doctors. Working with this organization and developing this program, the Marshall Islands will be the first country in the world to employ such a strategy. I'm so excited for the opportunity and the windfall that this will bring on to the RMI."
The doctors would be on a two-to-three month rotation. The RMI government would pay for their lodging and meals while they work.
"In the U.S. there are one million MDs. Of that one million, about 7 percent are retiring every year," said Gathercoal. "They are doctors with 30-40 years of medical experience. If it works, I can use my retiring doctors [in the RMI], who would love to help, as long it's not a long-term commitment. On the RMI side, they have a huge need for U.S. board certified doctors. There's a perfect match."
Now all that needs to be done is the logistics of it all. The partnership would provide year-round medical coverage to the people of the Marshall Islands.
"It's a great idea because we always talk about how we really want to educate local people or have some sort of ongoing educational program for local doctors, learning from us," said Dr. Irina Melnik, who specializes in spine and sports medicine. "This is a perfect opportunity. The doctors on Majuro have expressed a huge interest in continuing education."
Two teams from Flying Doctors of America came out last week to offer medical clinics and see if a long-term commitment to the RMI could become a possibility in the future. A medical and dental team of 10 stayed on Majuro while a team of 13 went to Ebeye.
The teams operate under the 'Mother Teresa Principle.'
"We try to go to the regions of the world that are underserved or not served at all," said Gathercoal.
While they did offer some assistance on Ebeye, Dr. Jerry Batten, a dentist with Flying Doctors said they were impressed overall with their facilities and capabilities there.
"What I saw there (Ebeye) was what I thought a very well-equipped facility -- good staff, very knowledgeable, very capable. I was really impressed with what they've got there," said Batten.
Compared to what they normally see, the Ebeye Hospital was very well organized and equipped with highly trained doctors.
"When I reviewed some charts, I saw that they've been doing the same procedures, the same kind of steps that I would do if I were involved in their particular patient's care," said Melnik.
The team decided Ebeye was not where the biggest need for their help is; they needed to reach out to the outer atolls, where they would be able to do more.
"What we're about is the atolls that never get medical care. Or if they get medical care, it's sporadic," said Gathercoal.
The organizations mobility is its strongest asset.
"The whole idea that our organization has created is that we are very mobile. We can bring out our own equipment and medications to very rural, remote areas where most people have never even seen a doctor their whole life," said Melnik. "That's our strength."
In just one day, they did more than 150 extractions and treated 100 patients in different specialty areas.
The patients were elated, said Gathercoal. "The thing we were most excited about is the day we saw those people who have never gotten dental care. … We were so happy to see those smiles." One woman brought back a gift to the dentist who treated her; she had pain for years and finally felt relief for the first time. "It was a beautiful experience."
The Flying Doctors team expressed great appreciation to the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll command for their assistance during the mission.
"We are so happy that the colonel (Col. Shannon Boehm) let us stay here," said Gathercoal. "It's been a great experience." The team departed Feb. 1.