A Mission to Serve

By Katy Mena-Berkley
Thursday, March 1, 2018

Four physicians from diverse specialties discuss factors that motivate their work with organizations providing medical care to underserved communities around the world.

Brian D’Cruz, MD

Emergency Medicine, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Since working as an EMT during high school, Brian D’Cruz has treasured every opportunity to care for patients. That inclination dovetailed with a career as an attending physician in emergency medicine at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia and as a physician with MSF.

He spends significant time with MSF, providing emergency care in conflict zones such as Burundi and Syria. He also helped manage pediatric malnutrition in Chad and sleeping sickness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dr. D’Cruz, a native of Pennsylvania, discovered MSF when he was providing earthquake relief in Haiti with a different nongovernmental organization. MSF’s dedication and efficiency impressed him immediately.

“Very quickly, they had clean water for the hospital and were just very well-organized in a really unstable circumstance in a very chaotic environment,” Dr. D’Cruz says. “I am going to work with them as long as I can.”

Mary Fleming, MD, MPH

Obstetrician–Gynecologist, Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB)

“Since the days of volunteering with my grandmother at the local homeless shelter, I have been acutely aware that health includes more than just health care,” says Dr. Fleming, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, who supplemented her clinical medical training with the study of public health and health policy. “Each day we have the chance to change the world.”

Dr. Fleming pursued that goal directly through working with CMMB for six months in the Mutomo District of Kenya. The work required a range of diverse skills, clinical and otherwise.

“CMMB is an organization that focuses on improving the overall health of women and children in many countries,” Dr. Fleming says. “Working in a resource-poor environment in another country feels like a natural next step as part of my growth as a person and as a physician.”

Dr. Fleming’s father helped her get set up in Mutomo, where she worked for six months at Our Lady of Lourdes Mutomo Hospital. Responsible for the care of both mothers and babies, Dr. Fleming was faced with circumstances she had not encountered in the United States. Electronic monitoring is not available in Mutomo, for example. However, she felt completely supported by the team at the hospital, where she also lived, and the comradeship among colleagues was inspiring.

“Working in Kenya is not just a professional experience. It’s a life-changing experience,” Dr. Fleming says. “The local staff and other physicians have graciously welcomed me. When not working, we often take meals together or walk into town to run errands.”

Lance Plyler, MD

Internal Medicine, Samaritan’s Purse

A fifth-generation physician, Dr. Plyler always felt called to give back through medicine. That desire, coupled with his Christian beliefs, found direction in the work of Samaritan’s Purse.

Led by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, the nondenominational evangelical organization works in areas facing calamities including famine, natural disasters and war.

“Years ago, even before I was in medical school, I was familiar with the Graham family,” Dr. Plyler says. “I was familiar with that organization, and I really migrated to it quickly because I had a lot of similar objectives and life philosophy in terms of my Christian faith.”

After earning a medical degree from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1994 and building a private internal medicine practice, Dr. Plyler cultivated the clinical and leadership skills that would pave the way for a fruitful career with Samaritan’s Purse.

He ventured around the globe on shorter missions for a period, providing medical services to communities in a variety of countries, including Kenya and Kosovo.

In 2011, he fulfilled his dream to begin full-time work with North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, where he now serves as Director of the World Medical Mission division.

Dr. Plyler’s travels have taken him to countless disaster-response sites, including Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, the Philippines following the 2013 typhoon and Nepal after a 2015 earthquake. He has also spent significant time serving war-torn populations in locales such as South Sudan and Mosul, Iraq.

His family joins him when the trips are not too dangerous, and he is thrilled to have passed the desire to serve through medicine on to his son and daughter, who are in medical and nursing school, respectively.

Katherine Horan, MD, MPH, FAAP

Pediatrician and University of Miami Fellow in Neonatology, MSF

A native of Boston, Dr. Horan always had a strong wanderlust. She completed her undergraduate degree in foreign language from McGill University, in Montreal, and attended the Medical School for International Health, in Israel, which required an additional four-year curriculum focused on global health.

“It was a career trajectory I had identified early on,” Dr. Horan says. “Very few schools offered it even as an option.”

Her choice to study global health concurrent with her clinical education proved invaluable. She provided care in Chad to young children with severe malaria and malnutrition, ran a pediatric hospital at a newly formed refugee camp in South Sudan, and served as the pediatric adviser at a hospital in Mali. Her most recent MSF engagement was building a neonatology unit on the Ivory Coast, and she looks forward to collaborating with MSF indefinitely.

“It will be part of my career forever,” says Dr. Horan, who is serving with MSF in a consulting capacity while completing her three-year fellowship in Miami.

She encourages other physicians to explore opportunities to address care shortages around the world: “We can all be part of the solution.”