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Kaiser Permanente physician provides care to those in need

Mary Meyer, MD, recently volunteered in Jamaica where she and others treated hundreds of patients a day. Pictured, Dr. Meyer on her way to a patient's house with her mobile medical equipment on her back and a stethoscope around her neck.

Providing health care to those in need is why Kaiser Permanente emergency medicine physician Mary Meyer, MD, loves her profession.

It’s one of the reasons she said her recent volunteer trip to Jamaica was so fulfilling.

The volunteers worked in rural health clinics and participated in health fairs. She and other health care professionals, including Kaiser Permanente physicians in Southern California, also provided health education, screening and treatment for hypertension, diabetes, HIV, and osteoarthritis, among other health services during their weeklong stay this spring.

“When we arrive at a health fair or a community clinic, there’s usually a crowd waiting for us. We often treated 80 to 125 patients in a single day,” said Dr. Meyer, who works in the Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek, Antioch, and Oakland emergency departments. “It’s usually quite late when we finish. We’re exhausted and sweaty because the heat and humidity are intense. But we all feel a huge sense of accomplishment. This work is so important for everyone’s physical and mental well-being.”

Dr. Meyer treats a patient at a health fair in Nine Mile, Jamaica, the birthplace of Bob Marley.

Although Jamaica’s balmy beaches and lush rainforests attract tourists from around the world, many residents are uninsured and lack access to adequate health care.

In addition to the primary care services and treatment, they also distributed reading glasses.

“I love the look on elderly patients’ faces when they try on their first pair of reading glasses,” Dr. Meyer said. “There’s an expression of wonder, as people are suddenly able to read again — sometimes for the first time in years.”

Connecting with far-flung colleagues

Dr. Meyer and her colleagues are often asked, “How can you get away to volunteer?” Although they have extremely busy lives and work schedules, Dr. Meyer said they make it happen with careful planning.

“It can take some maneuvering, particularly figuring out how to get away from our work lives and home lives,” she admitted. “But it’s worth it.”

One of Dr. Meyer’s favorite aspects of volunteering is meeting and working alongside Kaiser Permanente physician colleagues and employees from other parts of the country.

Once a year, Dr. Meyer goes on a volunteer trip with a team of women led by Lisa Sanders, MD, who is also emergency medicine for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, and Belen Gallarza-Wilson, MD, who works in primary care for Kaiser Permanente, also in Southern California.

“All of us find the time to volunteer on these trips,” said Dr. Sanders, adding that volunteer opportunities are available locally as well as abroad. “Any way you can find to give back will not only fill a need, it will also fill your soul.”

On this most recent trip to Jamaica, Dr. Meyer worked side by side with Sharon Okonkwo-Holmes, MD, and Erin Wycoff, MD. Both work in primary care for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California.

“They are amazing, talented women. I really enjoy meeting and working with physicians from different Kaiser Permanente regions.” Dr. Meyer said, noting the camaraderie that develops among the volunteers. “I join a diverse and impressive team of health care workers from very different backgrounds. We work side by side toward a common goal, which is to promote long-term health and well-being in underserved communities.”

Since the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, Dr. Meyer believes it’s important for health care workers to have a sense of global health trends and commitment to service.

“I love doing this work because it’s exciting, humbling, and fulfilling,” she said. “I return to my practice in the United States rejuvenated and reinspired. When I’m doing this work, I’m reminded of what I love most about my profession.”


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