Guest Editorial

Retiring AAFP Vice President Challenges Members to Get Involved in Global Health

December 21, 2012 03:10 pm Dan Ostergaard, M.D.
[VP Daniel Ostergaard, M.D., with family medicine residents]

Daniel Ostergaard, M.D., second from left, has made 20 humanitarian missions with Physicians With Heart. Three family medicine residents -- (left to right) Roseann Gager, M.D.; Lisa Gilbert, M.D.; and Rowan Casey-Ford, M.D. -- made the 2010 trip to Tajikistan.

My parents -- a general practitioner and a nurse -- had a faith-based calling to care for people in impoverished areas. Before I was born, they served as missionaries in India for 15 years. After providing care for a small town in Minnesota for more than a decade, they found another way to help those in great need by working on a Navajo reservation.

I was in eighth grade when the family moved to Rock Point, Ariz. My parents were working so deep on the reservation that I had to live with another family more than 30 miles away. As I entered high school the following year, it became necessary for me to move back to Minnesota. That move took me 1,400 miles away from my parents.

You might think that such an experience could be a bitter or unhappy one for a teenager, but for me, it was an eye-opening year. And it wasn't too long before I was back on the Navajo reservation as a medical student serving as co-director of a multidisciplinary community health project.

Ostergaard Honored by CFPC

Daniel Ostergaard, M.D., who is retiring as vice president for health of the public and interprofessional activities after 33 years with the AAFP, recently was named an honorary member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Ostergaard received the recognition Nov. 17 in Toronto during the College's convocation and awards ceremony at its annual meeting. Ostergaard was one of three people who received honorary membership. The recognition is for people who are not family physicians in Canada but "who have made outstanding contributions to the CFPC, the discipline of family medicine, the health system, or the health and well-being of the population in Canada or abroad."

Ostergaard, who managed the Academy's relationships with other professional organizations in the United States and abroad, was lauded for nurturing the AAFP's relationship with the CFPC and binational collaboration.

We all have been given talent and means. As family physicians, we have a responsibility to see opportunity, make opportunity and take opportunity to be of service to others. Although we already help patients and families every day in our practices, we can contribute even more if we are willing to move outside our personal comfort zones. Whether that means a mission trip to Haiti(, responding to a need for disaster relief or volunteering in an underserved area of your community is up to you.

For me, my first job out of training probably wasn't what most family medicine residents dream about. I was a general medical officer for the Indian Health Service on the Navajo reservation in the New Mexico desert.

Perhaps atypical, it was a fantastic opportunity. We can learn a lot in unfamiliar settings, and here I learned about population medicine, the importance of access to care and how to provide care with limited resources. It was a cultural experience, as well, because few of my older patients spoke English.

It also was just the beginning for me. During my past three decades with the AAFP, I have been fortunate to travel to more than 60 countries promoting the value and development of family medicine. It is vital that all people have access to competent generalist physicians.

During my time with the Academy, my wife, Ruth, and I served among leaders on 20 humanitarian missions with Physicians With Heart, a project of the AAFP, the AAFP Foundation, the U.S. State Department and Heart to Heart International( Through this collaborative effort, we were able to provide medical education to physicians, encouragement and help for children in orphanages, and more than $150 million worth of pharmaceuticals and medical instruments donated by U.S. and European manufacturers to communities in the former Soviet republics.

[VP Daniel Ostergaard, M.D., leading an educational session]

Daniel Ostergaard, M.D., who is retiring as vice president for health of the public and interprofessional activities after 33 years with the AAFP, traveled to more than 60 countries promoting the value and development of family medicine, including this 2011 trek to Kyrgyzstan.

Trips like these offer opportunities to reach out and share our resources of people, money, products, talent and education. Family physicians make a difference. Share your passion.

My travels may not be over, but I am retiring from the Academy in mid-January. So today, I challenge our students, residents, new physicians and others to look for opportunities to make a difference from our own backyards to overseas. It is our responsibility to do so.

How do you get involved? Local service groups, such as the Rotary Club; humanitarian groups, such as Heart to Heart; and others often organize mission trips. Churches and other faith-based groups sponsor some of the best care being provided in impoverished countries. Networking with colleagues can lead to opportunities. You also can contact Alexander Ivanov, the Academy's international activities manager.

For students, your school's global health office should provide abundant opportunities.

Broaden your horizons, enhance your potential as a family physician and make a contribution beyond your comfort zone.

Daniel Ostergaard, M.D., is retiring as vice president for health of the public and interprofessional activities after 33 years with the AAFP. In addition to his global work, he has served in a variety of vice presidential capacities at times with oversight responsibilities for the Academy's efforts regarding education, research and public health, as well as managing the Academy's relationships with the AMA and other professional organizations in the United States and abroad. He is a member of the World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca) Executive Committee and president of Wonca North American Region.