Doc's mission work is 'a good kind of busy'
September 02, 2015
By Brian Whepley
Dr. Deborah Kroeker got hooked on traveling and serving overseas during a trip to Mexico as a college freshman. Fast-forward more than a decade to Ecuador, where the pieces of what she does today - educating doctors here and abroad - came together.
"We went to this little village along the Napo River," she said. "On that trip, I was the only physician, and I remember being surprised as I realized that I was not seeing my own patients - instead the medical students were coming to me with questions about their patients, and I was supervising them as we worked together."
"It was at that moment that I realized I love supervising students, and helping them provide care to patients who otherwise would not receive it. I took a picture in the jungle that day to commemorate my awareness of what I wanted my future to be. I knew I had found a niche in which I could thrive," said Kroeker, assistant professor in pediatrics at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
Mission work cited in local award
Kroeker has done many other missions, including to Jordan and Tanzania. She's taken physician assistant students to Bolivia three times, and served as part of Medical Education International teams to Zambia and Mongolia. In addition, she's organized a global health rotation so pediatric residents can engage internationally.
"When I travel overseas, I get to help people who otherwise wouldn't receive care. It's a very tangible way to help people who are underserved," she said. "And I really like the added element of education, whether that's through teaching students to care for people, or through working with indigenous people so their own healthcare practices can improve. Through education, I can help them in a very respectful manner to improve health care long after my team is gone."
For her work overseas and her commitment to sharing what she's gained, Kroeker is being honored this year as a Wichita Business Journal's Health Care Hero.
"It's reaffirming that the work I've been involved with is seen as worthwhile," she said of the honor. "I really appreciate KU's support and the support I've gotten from my department chair and my co-workers. I'm really grateful I am able to take part in these opportunities."
A good kind of busy
Kroeker, a graduate of Tabor College in Hillsboro, subsequently graduated from the KU School of Medicine-Wichita and after completing her pediatrics residency, joined the faculty in 2010. She sees patients at the pediatrics clinic and newborns as a hospitalist, serves as associate program director for the pediatrics residency and is working toward a master's in medical education from the University of Cincinnati.
A native of Minnesota, she was first exposed to mission work by her mother's relatives, who had spent time overseas. She continues the tradition because she enjoys it and feels called to it.
"It's always an adventure and exciting to learn about new cultures. I love seeing different ways of living and meeting new people. Getting to travel with other people is always an adventure too," she said.
Soon after joining the faculty, Kroeker attended a missionary medicine conference, seeking an outlet for her interests. There, she made a contact that led her back to Wichita and Gina Brown, an assistant professor in WSU's physician's assistant program. Brown asked if she was interested in taking students to Bolivia. She has since taken three student groups there for multi-week trips offering "intense but great experiences."
Kroeker is also involved with Medical Education International, which works in developing countries. First she was invited to Mongolia in 2013, part of a team hosting a conference on congenital abnormalities. In 2014, she traveled to Zambia for a conference on faculty development. This September, she's returning to Mongolia for a conference on designing residency programs.
"She has a broad impact," said Dr. Brian Pate, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. "She's not just contributing her time and expertise - she's also inspiring the next generation of Deborah Kroekers."
Patients and students benefit
Medical students and residents benefit from working overseas in many ways, from improving foreign language skills to developing a greater ability to diagnose through patient history and physical examination because tests and imaging aren't readily available.
Pate said Kroeker is a fine role model for volunteerism and service, whether it's halfway around the world or at the JayDoc Community Clinic in Wichita.
"The students have a sense of the importance of this type of work, so it's important for us to be able to match those students' value of volunteerism with faculty who demonstrate it," he said. "The human side of medicine is something that we want to emphasize all the time, the thought that practicing medicine is a privilege and that we want to give back."
Kroeker herself finds inspiration in missionary medicine.
"I have been privileged to meet so many amazing providers along the way who challenge me," she said. "Whether those providers worked in the heart of Wichita like Dr. Kimberly Snapp, or in Central Asia like Gina Brown, I have been inspired by many people who serve in self-sacrificing ways to provide care to people in need."KU School of Medicine-Wichita