Massachusetts General Hospital nurse Grace Deveney, RN, has witnessed the resiliency of people in desperate situations over and over in her numerous deployments to areas of world conflict or disaster. “I see people come together as a community in these situations,” she says of her global health work, “but they really struggle and appreciate our expertise.” June 20 is the United Nations World Refugee Day, a time to recognize “the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world.”
Through many initiatives, Mass General supports employees like Ms. Deveney, who have been lit by the passion to use their professional skills to lend a hand during crisis. Her first global experience was 10 years ago on a Mass General Thomas S. Durant Fellowship for Refugee Medicine. She spent six months in the Darfur region of Sudan helping villagers ravaged by malnutrition and disease. The Durant Fellowship honors the late Thomas S. Durant, MD, a pioneer in humanitarian health care, who himself brought medicine and medical expertise to every trouble spot imaginable during his 35-year career.
“The children are half-naked and dirty, they have the characteristic swollen bellies and tiny limbs of malnourishment, they live in hovels made of sticks and rags and have the most horrific stories,” wrote Ms. Deveney wrote in a journal she kept in Sudan. “But somehow, they have found a way to hang on to laughter and smiles.”
Mass General launched the Center for Global Health in 2006 to share its 200-year legacy of innovation in medical care, education and scientific discovery.
When Disaster Strikes, MGH Is There
Since her fellowship, Ms. Deveney has volunteered to go to Haiti three times—after the earthquake, during the cholera epidemic that resulted, and to consult for a nongovernmental agency. She went to Jordan last year to assist Syrian refugees displaced to a refugee camp and then to the Philippines after the typhoon in November.
After such global health experience, Ms. Deveney finds that she is much more confident and can hit the ground running. She adapts to the situation, assesses the local resources and helps organize the response in coordination with local healthcare professionals. “Nurses know how to multi-task and being in a resource-poor area takes this to a whole other level,” she says.
She has learned how to build a trusting relationship with people from other cultures. And in situations without electricity, fancy diagnostic technology or even a blood pressure cuff, “I have to depend on reading cues and have returned to Mass General with much improved physical assessment skills,” Ms. Deveney says.
Global Health and the MGH Mission
“When in distress, every man becomes our neighbor,” wrote Drs. James Jackson and John Collins Warren in 1810 when petitioning for the founding of the hospital. In the same spirit, Mass General launched the Center for Global Health in 2006 to share its 200-year legacy of innovation in medical care, education and scientific discovery.
More than 400 MGH employees responded to the recent crises in Haiti and another 400 to the Philippines. “These experiences are life-saving to the people in these countries and it’s amazing for us to give back,” Ms. Deveney comments. “But it’s also wonderful that we return with skills and knowledge that make us better practitioners.”
Ms. Deveney recently returned to school part time to get a master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. Her global health experiences have inspired her to gain additional expertise.
Wherever she has traveled, she has found local healthcare professionals hungry for knowledge. “I can teach three nurses in Haiti good wound care and they will teach another 25 who will teach 50 others.”
She has discovered that even as one person, she can have an enormous impact.
How You Can Help
Since 2001, the Durant Fellowship program has sponsored Mass General physicians, nurses and other staff members interested in serving three-, six- or 12-month terms among the world’s refugee populations and other victims of disasters. While Mass General has no shortage of passionate, qualified applicants, a lack of funding limits the number who can serve. Every donation to the Durant Fellowship has an exponential impact, advancing the career of a Mass General caregiver and global humanitarian efforts.
To learn more about how you can support the Durant Fellowship program, please contact us.