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TEN QUESTIONS WITH DR. EVALEEN JONES


Interview by Preeti Kaur Rajpal

Dr. Evaleen Jones is president and founder of Child Family Health International (CFHI), an NGO dedicated to international student programs for students of the health professions. CFHI works with over 200 global partners and sends over 700 medical students abroad annually, while simultaneously complementing these partnerships with over $1million in donations of medical supplies and grants for health projects each year. Dr. Jones works actively to support the CFHI's growth and development, traveling extensively to strengthen sustainable healthcare for underserved communities worldwide, and is an active member of the International Health Medical Education Consortium (I.H.M.E.C).

Evaleen Jones, president and founder of CFHI.

GP: Can you tell us about your experience working in the field of global health?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: I have always loved working in other cultures and communities. In college I volunteered with the Women's Health Network and assisted with Family Planning education and cervical cap fitting in the Appalachian region of West Virginia. My interest in developing countries started while I was a medical student. My initial motivation was to learn Spanish so I could better serve the Spanish speaking communities in the United States. I went to Ecuador, where I worked for a month or more at a time during each year of medical school (on my vacation time!)

Why Ecuador? Well, at the time it had the right mixture for a medical student with little clinical experience: safe, small, politically stable, and, of course, Spanish-speaking. I knew a foreign medical student from college that lived there and landed on his doorstep in 1988. That's how it all started.

As a medical student, and then as a resident in Family Practice, and now clinician, I have worked with village health workers who travel by canoe along the Amazon River Basin (El Oriente), in remote villages in the Andean mountains, and along the coastal shanty towns near Guayaquil. I have spent time working in clinics in Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca, Mexico, and with street children in La Paz, Bolivia, in the Himalayan foothills of India with community health workers, along the trucking routes from Delhi to Jaipur to Pune and Mumbai. The issues of AIDS in South Africa has also drawn me to Capetown, Durban, and Johannesburg.

While I was a Family Practice resident, I spent several months in Kotzebue (north of Arctic Circle) on Kodiak Island, and Ketchikan, Alaska. I have also worked in Utah, and in Arizona with Native Americans (Pima and Papago) at the clinics on their reservations. Those experiences I arranged through the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Alaskan Native Association (ANA). Again, all of these experiences were squeezed in during an elective rotation or during vacation time!

GP: Can you tell us about your work with Child Family Health International?  

Dr. Evaleen Jones: I founded CFHI while I was a medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine in 1989. After spending several months in the rural and underserved parts of Ecuador I realized the unique value of this life transforming experience and wanted it to be available for all medical students. The logistics I had faced trying to find a place to 'train' abroad for a month or two was complicated and lengthy.  At that time, there were no formalized programs for medical students and pre-medical students to attend. There was a feeling among the majority of medical school faculties that a month's experience abroad was not academic enough and that such an experience was more like "medical tourism."

At that time, most volunteers that went abroad:

1) had to be either highly specialized MD's that were going to provide a medical service (ie. plastic surgery or eye surgery)

2) were affiliated with religious efforts (missionaries or religious organization), or

3) required you to commit to at least one, and sometimes two, years abroad (Peace Corps).

Even on the first year of a trip to South America, I began formalizing the process to help medical students find shorter term clinical experiences abroad. As more and more students began to seek similar experiential service-learning opportunities I saw the potential for significant physical (workforce) strain and tremendous financial burden placed on the communities. I also realized that with such a short time abroad (one-two months) and with their limited medical knowledge and skills, the students were taking more from the community than they could offer.

I had met a wonderful man, Dr. Edgar Rodas, MD, Vice-Dean of the University of Cuenca School of Medicine. His dream was to build a Mobile Surgical Unit that could travel to the edge of the Amazon Jungle to do simple elective surgeries and procedures. He had founded a non-profit organization, Cinterandes and was raising money to build the unit. I partnered with him, raised additional funds, and built the Mobile Surgical Unit in Santa Rosa California. I asked Dr. Rodas who was going to pay for the gas and the tires while the mobile unit traveled 12-14 hours to the border of the Amazon Jungle to operate on the local villagers four to five times a year. I offered to arrange medical travel to and work at the unit, and I raised money to support his cause.

It took two years and lots of "post call" time during my clerkship and residency years but the mobile unit finally made it to Cuenca (shipped by a huge ocean liner and the support of MAP International). The first students that rotated on the Mobile Surgical Unit made costly mistakes, like contaminating the sterile environment, and using up valuable and limited surgical supplies. This reinforced my belief that charging the students for this "opportunity to volunteer abroad" was the socially responsible and financially just way to structure the rotation abroad.

Now, more and more universities and academic teaching centers are beginning to value the personal, professional, and practical skills, knowledge and attitudes that such a rotation offers. It is my belief that such an experience abroad may be as valuable as a 6-10 week cross cultural didactic class at the medical school level, especially with the pre-departure orientation and planning and post-return Reverse Culture-Shock debriefing that CFHI offers.

GP: What was your inspiration to found CFHI?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: As mentioned before, I have a passion for getting medical students abroad so that they can gain greater perspective on the disparities of health care around the world. I'm passionate about seeing their ideas and understanding of what it is to be a doctor/healer transform as a result of just 4-8 weeks in a developing country.

I felt that the lessons learned and skills obtained through experiential learning were far greater than skills obtained in a standard typical didactic classroom.  Learning by seeing and case studies can be a transformative experience (it was for me) and I wanted to share this with others in medicine.

GP: What are some of your accomplishments in the area of global health?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: Of course, over the past eighteen years, CFHI has proudly supported numerous public health projects that directly impact the local communities in the developing world. And, equally important, I am thrilled that CFHI has provided thousands of future health professionals with not only the knowledge and sensitivity to the true human costs of the burden of disease and the hope that has been inspired by such things as the Millennium Goals. It is my hope that CFHI will make a lasting impact on the architecture and costing structure by which medical students and other allied health professionals 'volunteer' their services abroad so that our efforts are sustainable, socially responsible and financially just, and certainly, sustainable. Our motto first and foremost is: "Do No Harm" - we hope that our students are sensitive and respectful of the communities and "leave no footprints" behind that are not welcome or beneficial.

GP: What are the biggest challenges for you, as a health professional, working in global health?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: Balancing family and work as an Assistant Professor of Medicine, clinical practitioner, and Medical Director of a growing non-profit organization demands a busy schedule. However, I constantly remind myself that WHAT I DO is not WHAT I AM. This is often contrary to the Western model of 'success.' So I practice mindful meditation daily (sometimes hourly!), breathe deeply, remind myself that my priority is sharing myself and my time with my family (husband and two young sons). Even if for only minutes at a time, I spending time alone to remain centered and grounded, and PRESENT. Creating, building and maintaining a family (especially while traveling in pretty remote places!) has been a challenging task.

GP: What led you to get involved in global health as a young health professional?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: Curiosity, compassion, desire for connection, sense of justice and belief in equality.

GP: What are some of things health professional students can do to become more involved in global health from their respective campuses?  

Dr. Evaleen Jones: Learn the language of the country you are interested in working in. Read some key books on globalization/global health from medical, social, public health, political and economic perspectives. But most importantly, strive to be a perpetual student, to learn. Always be kind, curious, open, honest, to act humbly and to find your true passion. The world is a classroom and the village community is our teacher.

GP: What were some of the steps you took to become professionally active in global health and what advice would you give to health professional students?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: I joined various Global Health organizations (GHEC, APHA, AAFP, and others) and attended conferences, lectures and social gatherings that included some of my mentors and 'heroes' in the field. Sometimes, I directly approached the person (often a highly respected individual in the field) I wanted to meet and simply introduced myself. I still do.

Go out and introduce yourself to your heroes. Follow your heart, and don't worry about getting involved with projects that are under-funded or undeveloped. Find your passion.

GP: In what direction would you like to see the field of global health go in the future?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: I would love to see a requirement for all medical students to have a 4-8 week experience in a developing country, i.e. greater institutional commitment to experiential learning and putting those tuition dollars back into the communities from which they are learning. The world is our classroom and we must pay for each and every seat in it.

GP: What advice would you give to a health professional student looking to get hands-on experience through a rotation abroad?

Dr. Evaleen Jones: Be patient, be careful, be smart, be safe, be aware of your expectations and keep them in check... "Serenity is inversely proportional to expectations."

GP: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you.

To learn more about CFHI, check out www.cfhi.org.


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