Q&A: Sacramento doctor heads to Tanzania to teach medicine

07/22/2013 12:00 AM

07/22/2013 6:19 AM

With an established medical practice, devoted patients and a Sutter Roseville Physician of the Year award, the decision to retire, pack up and dedicate a year of service to a developing country would be daunting.

But that's the choice Sacramentan Martin Neft, 67, has made. He'll be traveling to Tanzania as part of the first class of volunteers for the Global Health Service Partnership.

The partnership will place health professionals in medical or nursing schools in Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda this month. The volunteers will teach clinical skills to the local faculty and provide mentorship by treating patients.

Three organizations involved in the public-private partnership are the Peace Corps, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Health Service Corps. The goal is to support existing medical and nursing education programs, especially in countries hit hard by HIV/AIDS.

What's your background?

I'm a physician, and I was a Peace Corps volunteer from '67 to '69 in the Philippines. I was an elementary education teacher at that time. Since then, I went into public health and medicine, and I've had a practice in Auburn and Roseville for the past 30 years.

I retired last month in order to be able to join the Peace Corps again as a medical educator, and I'll be beginning this (new) adventure by flying to Washington, D.C., for training; then I'll be flying on to Tanzania.

I'll be in the middle of the country working at a teaching hospital where students are prepared to be medical officers.

Why did you choose the Global Health Service Partnership?

From the time I've been in a local practice, I really had an ambition to someday get involved in international health, and the kind of international health I'm most familiar with is HIV. I've also been with Dr. (Neil) Flynn in his Medicos: The Kenya Project the last two summers.

This is the kind of thing I've been wanting to do for a long time. With trepidation, I gave up my practice so I could spend a part of the rest of my working career doing this.

What will you be doing?

I'll be living in a very small structure in a village, staying with colleagues and other teaching faculty. I'll be teaching classes, teaching clinical care in clinics and in the hospital and trying to speak Swahili. I know about 10 words. That's probably going to change in the next few weeks.

How are you preparing?

I'm not an obstetrician, but I know one kind of emergency I could be encountering is delivering babies. I took a course in obstetrics and I've been studying tropical medicine. I've had many, many difficult goodbyes with friends, family and patients over the last month or so – far more than I would ever have foreseen. It has not been easy. I'll be gone for a year.

What influence will your age and your experience have on this new venture?

My first experience was a good one, but I felt like I didn't have any real skills to contribute. I'm hoping that will be less of a problem this time. I've learned some important skills to bring there, and I really want to go back with something concrete to offer.

I'm in a program called Peace Corps Response, which is a special program, not the larger more well-known part of the Peace Corps. It's geared to respond to specific needs through people who have Peace Corps experience and medical skills.

The volunteers tend to be a bit older. Perhaps half of us will be old and advanced in our medical careers, the other half having just graduated and are getting a start in their medical careers.

Are you prepared to be a teacher and an educator?

I'm a practitioner; I have another position at UC Davis teaching medical students in residence. My role in the Kenya Project the last two years was to provide care and to teach.

What will you take with you, and will it be a challenge to pack light for a year?

We're going to put together a scrapbook of photographs of my life in California so I can show that to people in the village. We know the people are going to be really interested. If space permits, I'm going to bring toys, Wiffle Balls and so on. The children always enjoy that.

I can bring 100 pounds, and if I tried to fill this up with medical textbooks, I would be really challenged. But I'm trying to fill up with clothes and medical tools.

When you're in the capital you can buy pretty much anything you can buy here. The mementos, the pictures and things like that, I want to make sure I have those.

Call The Bee's Morgan Searles, (916) 321-1102. Follow her in Twitter @morgansearles.

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