I don’t know how folks functioned in the U.S. Foreign Service before the advent of the personal computer. Every year, about a third to half of embassy staff members prepare to rotate to the next blue horizon. That goes for the medical crew, as well. We bid on a job list that is anxiously awaited every year and then get down to the business of learning geography all over again. Not every U.S. embassy has a health unit, so we are not in tune to every country, but we don’t do too badly.
I was working for the State Department about a year before it dawned on me that we don’t bid on country assignments but capitals. So, when you are looking at a list and it says, Yaoundé, you’d better look it up before you put it on your list. Many of you will know Berlin, Rome, Frankfurt and Beijing, but what about Lilongwe, Antananarivo, Ulaanbaatar, Chisinau, Quito or Cartagena? Okay, you may know Cartagena, if you are a Michael Douglas “Romancing the Stone” movie fan.
So, every year, the medical folks help those who are bidding on jobs—sometimes on the other side of the world—to assure that medical assets required by the bidder’s family are available at the new posting. Easier said than done! Over the years, a system of evaluating and writing down medical contacts and sources of excellent care has evolved into a massive worldwide I’ve-got-you-covered list. So Jamie, who has asthma and wants to go to an air-polluted environment, will need a very good pulmonologist who, by the way, speaks English well enough so that her mother, whose native tongue is French, will understand.
This whole topic evolved as a patient—and friend—walked into the office the other day and said her husband had gotten the job of his dreams in Lusaka.
“Great!” I said. “Hmmm,” I was thinking quietly, “where in the world? Okinawa? Japan? Southeast Asia?” No, my friends, none of the above. It’s the lovely country previously known as Zambia.
Now, what part of Africa is that in? Get out the maps, which a seasoned Foreign Service officer has bookmarked on the desktop. The usual thoughts race through the old gray cells: Malaria? Yellow fever? Diarrhea? Food sources? Typhoid? Etc, etc.
Well, this is going to take some education to pull off the medical-advice portion of a briefing for Lusaka. Like I said, I don’t know what medical providers did before the computer!
— Betty Ulrich, U.S. Foreign Service NP, medical rover, Washington, D.C. (for now)
For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.