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    Derm describes transformative experience

    Missionary work can be transformative. That's how Jane Scribner, M.D., a dermatologist and lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, describes her experience.

    You encounter levels of skin disease you might never see in regular practice, according to Dr. Scribner. You see more severe versions of skin disease than what you would typically see in the U.S., such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, but also disfiguring, untreated connective tissue diseases and rare genetic skin diseases.

    Dr. Scribner, who practices at the Lovell Healthcare Center, a veterans’ affairs and naval hospital in North Chicago, talked about volunteering during a presentation in July at the American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD’s) Summer Meeting in Boston.

    A worthwhile sacrifice

    Last summer, Dr. Scribner and 1,200 other military personnel and volunteers, including doctors in various specialties, nurses, other healthcare providers, public health department members, construction workers, security personnel, cooks, veterinarians and others, left port April 1 aboard the U.S. Navy’s floating hospital, the USNS Comfort. The particular mission was called Continuing Promise 2015. Like the name implies, the Navy sent the floating hospital to uphold our government’s promise to some Central American and Caribbean countries to provide support and humanitarian aid.

    ALSO READ: Dermatologists' volunteer work holds great value

    The journey would take the volunteers and crew to 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, the island of Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Haiti.

    “In each of the countries, we would spend nights onboard the Comfort. And we would take small boat shuttles to the shore every morning to provide care for up to 1,100 patients daily. We would be in each country for about nine to 12 days,” Dr. Scribner says.

    It’s quite a sacrifice for the many civilian doctors who closed their practices for this and other military missions. Many of the primary care doctors onboard gave up their practices for the entire six months to join the mission, unpaid. The volunteer dermatologists onboard were there for one to two months at a time, according to Dr. Scribner.

    The Indo-Asia-Pacific Pacific Partnership 2015 mission was another military humanitarian mission to four countries aboard the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy. That was a similar mission in size, aim and scope, which embarked at the same time, according to Dr. Scribner.

    “Our hospital ships primarily are supposed to be ready to provide mobile surgical and medical care for deployed forces. We also have a secondary mission of rapid humanitarian response,” she says. “The USNS Comfort actually responded to the crisis in Haiti and the USNS Mercy has responded to several crises. The missions last summer are training missions to make sure the ship can function at a high level of expertise, and we use that training requirement as an opportunity to provide medical care to the impoverished people in these third world countries.”

    “One of the things that I liked about our model of having multiple specialties in one site working together … was the collaborative effort among specialties,” Dr. Scribner says.

    One case that stands out, according to the dermatologist, was a woman whose ultimate diagnosis was pseudoxanthoma elasticum, or PXE, a rare genetic disorder in which elastic fibers degenerate and result in small, raised yellow-white areas in the skin folds.

    The patient had waited overnight to see the ship’s dental team for needed dental work. When the dental providers noticed a rash on the woman’s neck, they asked Dr. Scribner to come over and take a look.

    “I realized this was definitely a complicated genetic skin disease. By collaborating with optometry and cardiology, we were able to give her a workup in the middle of Columbia at a gymnasium and refer her to where she needed to go for further care. She had no idea that this rash had systemic implications,” Dr. Scribner says.

    Next: How to prepare | Next steps

    More on derms who volunteer

    U.S. derm leads volunteers in Cambodia

    Derm flies 900 miles each month to give back

    Volunteering abroad: Benefits outweigh drawbacks

    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is president of Words Come Alive, based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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