When local pediatrician, Dr. Steve Brown, was young, he dreamed of being a doctor working on a boat. The first part of his dream defined his career as a pediatrician, and last year, he realized the second part while he served as a volunteer at The Lake Clinic, Cambodia. The clinic brings doctors, medical supplies and other services to seven floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Many of the houses in these villages are either floating structures or built on stilts over the water, and the area is so remote that the only way to bring a clinic to the people is by boat.
Dr. Brown had been consulting with clinics (including one in Cuba) over the internet for a year or so, helping them to assess more difficult illnesses or conditions. “I’ll get pictures of dermatological conditions, or something that transmits in a photograph,” he says, “and it’s easy for me to get a specialist to take a look at it.”
After helping patients online, Dr. Brown had an opportunity to spend a month at the clinic where he experienced first-hand the extreme needs of people in such a remote location. “We traveled three to four hours to reach people who couldn’t even seek medical care if they wanted to,” he says. “Families are living off of $2 per day and it cost $40 to $50 worth of fuel just to get us there.”
He says the most rewarding aspect of the work is the appreciation shown by the people they were helping. “The people are just so grateful that you’re there helping them and it gives you a warm feeling inside to be able to do that.”
Dr. Brown also volunteers for Project Angkor, a humanitarian mission that sets up free temporary clinics in remote areas to treat patients and help train Cambodian medical students.
Cambodia has a special draw for Dr. Brown, but volunteerism has characterized his career both near and far. As a member of the Maryland Physician Emergency Volunteer Corps, he worked with the Red Cross after hurricane Katrina to see people in Maryland who had been displaced from homes and needed medical care.
“This kind of work is definitely what I went into medicine for,” he says. “I wanted to be able to help people who need the help.”