Published: June 21, 2021

Spotlight: Humanitarian Efforts | Gayle E. Woodson, MD

There is a great need around the world, and many organizations that can simplify the process of getting involved.

Gayle E. Woodson, MDGayle E. Woodson, MD

Where do you currently practice, and what is your specialty area?

I am retired from surgical practice in the United States. I volunteer as an otolaryngology consultant at Space Coast Volunteers in Medicine in Melbourne, Florida.  

What humanitarian efforts are you involved with?  

My husband, Tom Robbins, and I have made regular visits to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania, since 2006. At that time there were only five otolaryngologists in Tanzania, a country of more than 50 million people. The ENT doctors at KCMC provided basic care and were due to retire soon, with no prospects for replacement. We had done medical outreach in other countries but felt a special calling to build a residency program through teaching and supplying equipment. Otolaryngologists from other countries joined in the effort. We suspended our visits during the pandemic but hope to soon return there to spend two months each year.     

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What got you started in committing your time and practice to humanitarian efforts?

My first experience in overseas volunteerism was participating in five trips to El Salvador with Austin Smiles, a cleft palate mission. My husband and I went to Guatemala to provide primary care through our church, and we have made several visits to Jordan. 

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How does your work impact the communities you serve and you as a person? 

The first three residents who finished the training program in Tanzania are now the faculty, with subspecialty expertise in otology, head and neck surgery, and rhinology, and they train residents to serve other communities. Developing friendships with people in other cultures is tremendously rewarding. People all over the world have the same basic needs and hopes.  

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What would you say to encourage others to support humanitarian efforts around the world? 

I have spoken to so many people who would love to do outreach but feel hesitant to take the plunge or are unsure of how to get involved. There is a great need around the world, and many organizations that can simplify the process of getting involved. 

Any final comments or thoughts?

My own opinion is that any humanitarian mission should include a component of education in order to make a sustainable impact. Even if there is no medical or nursing school, patients can be taught healthy lifestyles and self-care, and people in the community can learn to promote public health. 

More from July 2021 – Vol. 40, No. 6