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Marie's Blog from Lambaréné, Gabon
Albert Schweitzer Fellow
July 25, 2008
After finishing the proverbial drinking-out-of-a-fire-hydrant, third year of medical school, I am about to embark on a long-awaited journey to work at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital or Hopital d’Albert Schweitzer in Lambaréné, Gabon, where I will live and work for the next three months. Where is Gabon, you ask? It is considered a part of central Africa, and is bordered by Congo, Cameroon, and the Atlantic Ocean. Why this hospital? The Albert Schweitzer Hospital is the product of the vision and dedication of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Long story short, Dr. Schweitzer was a renaissance man of sorts, who answered a call for help. He literally became a physician for the sole purpose of helping the people of Africa. After falling in love with the region of Lambaréné and people therein, he literally built a hospital out of a chicken coop and began practicing medicine. Even after more than 90 years, including periods of political unrest and war, his hospital lives on and cares for the people of Gabon.
I learned about the Lambaréné Schweitzer Fellowship from Benjamin Gilmer, the first Schweitzer Fellow from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. He gave a presentation on his work and experiences there, and his stories inspired me to apply. The fact that it came about because of Dr. Schweitzer, whom I had learned about years before, really excited me. When I was 17, I spent a year in France as an International Rotary exchange student. I came to know of Dr. Schweitzer during a visit to Gunsbach, France, his hometown in the region of Alsace. At this time in my life, I already knew that I wanted to become a physician, so I was especially interested in seeing his pictures and hearing the stories of Africa and his hospital from our tour guide. Before leaving Gunsbach, I sat beneath his statue, thinking how wonderful it would be to realize such dreams as he had—helping so many.
Having grown up in a small town on the water in North Carolina, I imagine that I share some similarities with the people of Lambaréné. It too is on the water, bordering the Oogué River, and most of the population depends on the water for both work and daily living just as my hometown did. I am looking forward to seeing how they live, what they must endure, and what diseases confront them in this setting. I want to learn what health care means to them, what the physician-patient relationship is like, and how it compares to our own. Living in eastern North Carolina, I have learned much about rural medicine and the disparities therein. How does this compare to Gabon, where I understand people come from hundreds of miles away to be seen in Lambaréné? With so many questions, I am eager to learn, to explore, and to serve the Gabonese people. I know that I will bring Gabon back to North Carolina with me, sharing not only the knowledge and experience in their community and health care, but sharing Dr. Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life” and what passion it brings to others.
An Ethos at Work
Harvard. Yale. Tufts. East Carolina.
These are just a few of the prestigious medical schools that have produced Albert Schweitzer Fellows since 1979. This year, East Carolina is home to two of the four third-year medical students chosen each year to spend three months working as fellows at the world-renowned Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon.
Brody School of Medicine students Marie Rowe and Nicolaus Glomb will represent ECU in Gabon, with Rowe working from August to October as a physician in adult internal medicine, and Glomb following in December as a public health fellow assisting with the hospital’s community health outreach program.
For Rowe, interest in becoming an Albert Schweitzer Fellow began in her senior year of high school when she was a foreign exchange student in Schweitzer’s hometown of Gunsbach, France.
“That’s where I first learned about him. He was from where I lived there, and I went to his house and learned about his life and his Reverence for Life philosophy,” she said. “I identify with what he believed in, and what he tried to teach so many people—that everybody matters on this earth, whether it’s an insect on the ground or humans at the top of the food chain.”
Albert Schweitzer was a world famous physician, musician, and theologian who founded a hospital in Lambaréné, then a province of French Equatorial Africa, in 1913. In 1915, he created the ethos he called Reverence for Life—an elementary and universal principle of ethics stressing the interdependence and unity of all life. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952, and continued to care for the sick and needy at his hospital until his death at age 90.
Today, the hospital serves as the primary source of healthcare for the surrounding region and provides care for more than 35,000 outpatient visits and more than 6,000 hospitalizations. Most of the 160 members of the staff live in the hospital compound, which gives the hospital the feel of a village. As fellows, Rowe and Glomb will join them and gain invaluable experience.
“It’s a totally different world there as far as medicine as we know it,” said Rowe. “You don’t have the large battery of tests [to help with diagnosis] like you do here in America. You have to figure out how to treat a patient with what you have. Educationally, I think it will be a big eye opener to see how they practice and how they meet the needs that they have.”
Rowe has long been interested in international medicine and hopes to one day to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. She speaks French, and credits her experiences living abroad as a high school senior with her desire to follow Schweitzer’s philosophy and help the less fortunate around the world.
“Meeting people from different countries changes your perspective,” she said. “I think it is important to get out, however you can, whether it’s to a different state or a different country, or whatever. If you push your boundaries, you can learn a lot."
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and not representative of, nor endorsed by, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, L'Hopital Albert Schweitzer, or the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
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