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Trip to Africa to help others proves good for doctor’s heart, too –

by Terri Hogan

Senior Staff Writer

Olney cardiologist Dr. Reed Shnider recently returned from one of his many trips to Africa, where he shares his life-saving skills with the people of Tanzania.

What he brings home with him is important, too. His work there makes him a better doctor, he says, and refreshes his soul.

It is a tale of contrasts — spending most of the year practicing cardiology in the Washington, D.C., suburbs for large health care system MedStar Health compared to a few weeks in a modest clinic in a rural area on Africa’s east coast.

Shnider works with the Foundation for African Medicine and Education, an organization dedicated to improving the quality and accessibility of medical care in Tanzania and making a difference in the day-to-day lives of the Tanzanian people.

He treats people with heart-related problems, from adolescents to adults. His mission is to help them to get healthy and stay healthy.

“The current health care climate separates us from what makes us doctors, although the desire to help people never disappears completely,” he said. “I love what I do here, but I have the urge to reconnect with healing people without challenges of technology, electronic medical records, insurance — things we deal with here on a daily basis. That’s why many doctors get burned out.”

The trips began when his daughter Rachel, a pediatrician, was finishing medical school. They decided that when she completed her residency, they would go on a volunteer mission overseas together.

Shnider’s son had been to Tanzania, so they decided that would be a good place to go.

“It’s beautiful and there was a need,” he said.

They traveled to the medical facility in the district of Karatu, on the edge of the Serengeti. The clinic has evolved from a mobile clinic to an outpatient facility to full hospital that treats patients of all ages.

Their first trip was in 2011 and proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Shnider was able to utilize his skills and knowledge to care for patients, while working alongside his daughter, a skilled pediatrician.

He expected to be practicing general medicine, but the villagers were excited about having a cardiologist. The closest cardiologist is 75-100 miles away.

After that first trip, Shnider was sold.

“I couldn’t wait to come back,” he said. “I got a feel of what kinds of needs they had.”

He has now made six trips, each time taking other colleagues with him.

Practicing medicine there is not without challenges.

“It takes creativity,” Shnider said.

He could be treating a patient with congestive heart failure, but not have access to a chest X-ray or certain medications.

“It’s dealing with diminished resources to figure out how to best care for the patients,” he said.

Other problems center around language barriers and cultural differences, “although it has gotten easier year to year,” he said.

He has learned that treating patients with chronic disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes can be difficult.

“They have a different perspective of wellness,” he said. “We have to teach them to change their lifestyle and habits and to take medications continuously. That is a challenge.”

Since his first trip, the center has gone from a nine-patient clinic to a full-blown hospital with improved medical equipment. They now have an echocardiogram machine, which makes Shnider’s job easier.

“I am really excited about how it has grown over time,” he said. There are more and more doctors and the number of patients have increased by thousands.”

He recalls performing a “stress test” on a patient by having the patient run up and down the hallway before lying on the table to have an electrocardiogram (EKG). He has since obtained an exercise bicycle to facilitate testing.

He knows how much his efforts are appreciated in Karatu and the gratitude has been expressed in unconventional ways.

“Someone once brought me a goat as a thank-you,” Shnider said.

Even when he is not in Africa, Shnider continues to make a difference there, as he is often sent test results for consultation.

In addition to treating residents of that community, the center also cares for tourists who are relieved to find quality health care. Generous donations from tourists have helped to fund the medical center.

While in Africa, Shnider makes time for some sightseeing and recounts the splendor of seeing thousands of wildebeests, cheetahs, leopards and more.

He plans to continue his service trips.

“I will continue to go as long as I can get away because this takes up most of my vacation,” he said. “Hopefully the organization I work for will understand that this meets the mission of better health care everywhere. These trips reinforce my enjoyment of practicing medicine, put me in a better mindset and help me to do a better job.”


    Dr. Reed Shnider is on the staff of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, with offices in Olney and Leisure World. For more information on the health center in Tanzania, go to https://fameafrica.org/.

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