Hands Across the Water


Date: November 2007

Publication: Integrative Medicine Journal

Author: Exclusive E-Commentary by Bill Benda, MD, Editorial Board Member

Every generation seems to sire a small cadre of young people who choose to wander beyond their own back yards, trading the security of home and employment for the opportunity to serve those less blessed by fortunate birth. Some join the Peace Corps; others follow a call to spread their particular theory of divinity to isolated cultures. The most notable organization engaged in providing medical relief may be Doctors Without Borders, recipient of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. I, myself, spent the summer of 1994 in Rwanda providing such care, an experience forever burned into my heart as well as my memory. We who reside in a country rich in both resources and opportunity do not appreciate that the majority of our fellow humans have never seen a pill or a public health clinic, but instead are under the unconventional yet culturally competent care of traditional healers who still make hut calls. To us the big questions in healthcare revolve around third-party payers rather than third-world problems. We fret about how to fill our schedules and bank accounts rather than how to fill our bellies. But some practitioners follow a different drum, often quite literally. One such soul is Tabatha Parker, ND, founder and executive director of Natural Doctors International (NDI). In 1993 a group of naturopathic physicians created NDI with the mission of bringing natural medicine to underserved communities abroad. As with many upstart organizations too naïve to realize the impossibility of such a task, they have, of course, been successful. Not content with having accomplished the unachievable, there are shortterm plans for 5 new clinics in different countries, with a long-term goal of 20 by the year 2015. CME-accredited courses in global health are already offered to medical volunteers, and relationships have been created with the World Health Organization and other national health ministries to ensure that international policy incorporates natural medicine as part of its infrastructure. Why on earth would a graduate from naturopathic medical school, with the burden of student loans and societal pressures, choose to build wells and wellbeing in a foreign land? The answer is love—human love, pure and simple—the very love that motivated each of us to enter our medical training in the first place, but which is often forgotten amidst the dreams and drudgery that has become our daily lives. But all is not lost; should you find yourself still hearing the faint voice of a greater calling, simply drop an email to Tabatha at www.ndimed.org. And then consider taking a journey back to the heart and soul of why we chose to enter this beautiful, insane profession in the first place. I hear Nicaragua is lovely in the winter.


Bill Benda, MD