There are many volunteer programs that bring physicians from industrialized nations to developing or underserved areas to provide periodic medical care or care in times of crisis. However, not many are designed to provide ongoing care to communities in need—and that’s where Floating Doctors comes in. Through health professional volunteers, Floating Doctors provides ongoing primary health care services to communities in Panama while working with community members to improve health education and help reduce burdens on local health systems.
Recently, two physicians from Floating Doctors—Benjamin LaBrot, MD, and Ryan McCormick, MBBS, BAO—sat down with ACEP Now Medical Editor in Chief Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, to discuss the genesis and ongoing mission of the Floating Doctors program. Dr. LaBrot is the founder of Floating Doctors and the medical director and co-founder of RemoteCare Education, a tropical medicine competence and medical mission performance CME program held at Floating Doctors’ mission headquarters. Dr. McCormick is vice president of Floating Doctors and CEO of RemoteCare Education. Here are some highlights from their discussion.
KK: Where did Floating Doctors come from conceptually, and how did it get started?
BL: Floating Doctors is a nonprofit medical team providing primary health care, emergency care, and community development assistance to remote rural populations. The idea came from an impromptu accidental clinic that I ended up conducting while I was traveling in Tanzania in 2006.
I attended the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. One of my classmates suggested that I visit Tanzania. On my way out to the Serengeti, the guy driving suggested that we stop in a small Maasai village to see it, and I said, “Sure, that sounds very interesting.” When we got to the village and they found out that I was a doctor they said, “Oh, you’re a doctor! Do you mind having a look at this thing on my arm?” Ironically, the very first time that happened to me as a qualified doctor was in a tiny Maasai village in the middle of nowhere in East Africa. I saw one person, and then I saw another, and then I saw another, and pretty soon I ran out of everything I had with me in my own medical kit. I was like, “Oh, resource-limited health care.” Fifty or 60 patients and seven hours later, I finished up and got back into the car and had a moment of clarity. I’m going to come back to this village or any of the hundreds of thousands of communities just like this, but I’m going to bring a much bigger backpack. Floating Doctors is really a much bigger backpack with way more effective tools. The epilogue is that eight years later on my honeymoon, my wife and I went back to that village, and it was actually the highlight of our entire honeymoon, especially because they said, “What? You came back?” No doctor had visited since.