I never wanted to teach. My only real (paid) teaching job was on college breaks when I was a substitute teacher at my high school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Annandale, Virginia. I learned that as a sub, teaching wasn’t important. But memorizing the names of a few students, and calling them out by name, was enough to instill fear and avoid behavioral problems (at least among the nerdy crew, like me). And I guess I did some teaching during residency, especially as Chief Resident, but I was so busy learning myself that I never felt I had much to teach.
Two years ago, I started teaching a Jewish cooking class to high school students at our synagogue. Memorizing names is harder for me now than it was in my twenties, but I make a better kugel now than then. Wednesday nights meant loading the Kitchenaid mixer or food processor into my car, and rushing off to teach kids to peel garlic, soak chickpeas, and chop onions. I loved it and hope to get that volunteer gig again when I return.
When I signed up to volunteer with Health Volunteers Overseas, there was a fair amount of paperwork to do. Besides the Vietnam Visa-gate (2 charities required 2 different types of Visa for my volunteer work), there were PowerPoint lectures to be submitted for translation into Vietnamese, letters of intent to be written, and bios to be created. The goal of HVO’s work in Hue, Vietnam, is to provide teachers to the fledgling Department of Dermatology at one of Vietnam’s largest universities of medicine. Most of our volunteer work this year has been hands-on patient care, and I was nervous about my new role as a Dermatology Professor. Mostly, I didn’t have the right shoes for teaching. My pared down travel wardrobe still included a few cute tops and skirts, but I had only ugly shoes like flip-flops and Keens. No one can learn from someone who wears Havianas.
Andrew listened to me fret about my teaching job for a few weeks until he figured out that a little shopping would solve most of my problems. Faux patent leather pumps and a pair of “F”ori Burch flats were quickly purchased and my confidence grew.
I really shouldn’t have worried. The dermatology faculty (5) at Hue were the friendliest, most enthusiastic, most welcoming, and the nicest doctors I’ve ever worked with. They work hard, with challenging patients, under suboptimal conditions, and with minimal funding. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun with dermatology! In one day, we had more rare and unusual cases than I see in months at home. I also realized how much fun it is to be a consultant. I sat in the professor’s seat in the exam room – surrounded by 3-4 attending physicians and 3-4 resident physicians. Because of the language barrier, I missed out on talking with the patients – one of my favorite parts of work at home. But the moments without talking gave me the opportunity to really observe the patient in a different way. Particularly with the difficult cases, I was able to introduce and teach some new ideas and approaches to diagnosis and treatment.
Every day, I’d return to our AirBnb home, excited and ready to (over)share about our patients. One of the faculty would often pick up and deliver me to my home by motorbike, always taking care to remind me to close my eyes as we cut in front of oncoming traffic. My affection and respect for the Hue dermatologists couldn’t be greater, and I can’t wait to talk my partners into going there to help and to become reinvigorated by the medicine we are so fortunate to practice. Helping people is great – but diagnosing cool, rare diseases is even more fun, right?