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Addressing Global Health Inequalities by Empowering People with a Vision with Vanessa Kerry, M.D., CEO, Seed Global Health
Episode 71

Vanessa Kerry

Addressing Global Health Inequalities by Empowering People

Working closely with developing country partners to promote and support new generations of health professionals to serve as global health educators and work within countries facing critical human health care resource shortages

Addressing Global Health Inequalities by Empowering People with a Vision with Vanessa Kerry, M.D., CEO, Seed Global Health

Episode 71

Full Podcast Transcript

Addressing Global Health Inequalities by Empowering People with a Vision with Vanessa Kerry, M.D., CEO, Seed Global Health

: [00:00:01] Welcome to the outcomes rocket podcast where we inspire collaborative thinking, improved outcomes and business success with today’s most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez

Saul Marquez: [00:00:19] Outcomes Rocket listeners welcome back once again to the Outcomes Rocket where we chat with today’s most inspiring and successful healthcare leaders really want to thank you for tuning in today. And if you love what you hear today or in general visit outcomesrocket.com/reviews and that’ll take you straight to our Apple podcast where you can leave us a rating and review. We love hearing from our listeners so drop us a line. They’re always excited to hear from you. Without further ado I want to introduce to you my outstanding guest. Her name is Dr. Vanessa Kerry. She’s the CEO of Seed Global Health. Seed Global Health is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work closely with developing country partners to promote and support new generations of health professionals to serve as global health educators and work within countries facing critical human health care resource shortages. She is also a doctor in critical care at Mass Genn and has an outstanding history of just being a contributor and health care. Without further ado, I just want to open up the microphone to our special guest and let her in any of the gaps in that intro. Vanessa, welcome to the show.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:01:34] Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to join you. And it’s a really I think tremendous thing that our is doing just in terms of trying to highlight stories in health especially I think that one of the things we just talked about it seemed is that health is really the underpinning of almost everything we do or want to do in life. So telling these stories is incredibly important and we’re really honored to be able to join you.

Saul Marquez: [00:01:59] Thank you so much. Dr. Kerry and so why don’t you share that beginning story that first domino that led to it all. What is it that got you into health care.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:02:08] You know what got me into healthcare in the first place. I’m not actually so sure. Now I think that was just a very intrinsic thing in me. I was always interested in science in general. And then I had an outstanding biology teacher prop up Polly in seventh grade and Mrs. Polly. Just something about the way she taught her own excitement about the work ignited biology especially for me. And I actually decided in seventh grade that I was going to be a surgeon. I had no idea what that would. You know I’m not a surgeon. But it’s not really my idea of being a physician. And there’s always determined to go to medical school.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:02:47] I think that what became interesting is how that got shaped and molded by various experiences in my life. One being the daughter of two public servants. I had a father that was very engaged in international relations and I had a mother who was very proactive about fighting the stigma of depression and talking about depression a time when nobody else was. Both my parents grew up abroad.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:03:10] And so I had a real understanding of how you can be 100 percent American. Love this country still understand how we weave into the world outside of our borders. And then I think through my own experiences that I had I really realized that I wanted to be engaged in global health. When a story they always tell is that I had this unbelievable privilege of going to Vietnam when I was 14 and really saw an extraordinary poverty unlike anything I’d ever seen before and couldn’t really make any sense of it as a 14 year old I just hung on that experience. And that ended up catapulting me to spending a lot more time abroad working in Uganda and working in Rwanda and so as I was finishing up my residency I really knew solidly that I was going to have a career that worked on the health disparities in the world both what we see in variable resource limited countries abroad as well as I think becoming invested in what some of the Raspberry’s are in this country.

Saul Marquez: [00:04:08] Wow what a story and really appreciate you sharing that. You know a combination of your parents and teachers and then also your exposure to the world has sort of taken you around the globe and around this the system of health care to now. Frontline practitioner to now leading this amazing team in this effort that you have at Seed Health. Really excited to jump into some of these things. Vanessa what would you say a hot topic that should be an every medical leaders agenda today. And how are you guys addressing that.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:04:41] It’s a great question.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:04:42] I actually very strongly believe that one of the most important topics we can be addressing in any health related or leaders agenda needs to be people and how do you train really good people. How do you have the right resource mix of people and how do you have them working in the right place. Urban versus rural clinical versus hospital how do you incentivize people to create that spread. And I think very importantly how are you keeping them in the health care industry. And I think that’s an issue in any country whether you’re United States or elsewhere and certainly in the places we work. So Seed Global Health really just in this space we are training future doctors nurses midwives in countries that have very severe shortages of these health professionals. These health professionals are critical because are the leaders of their health care system. They are able to not only provide outstanding care to patients immediately but they’re able to support the health care all the health workers and the health folks in the health care workforce across the whole system and very importantly they’re able to train their successors so that you can ensure there’s a pipeline of qualified providers that are going to be available to these countries that are in your face these incredible shortages. Just to give an example a country like Tanzania has one woman die every hour from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth one every hour. Yet this is a country that has only one physician and 24 nurses for every 100000 people. Wow. To put that into perspective. You know the United States has about 240 physicians and 980 nurses for the same population. So we’re talking about really severe shortages of healthcare providers. And I think this is going to be one of the really critical crises that we’re going to be seeing globally.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:06:31] If we don’t do something about it and it’s even measurable predicted the World Health Organization knows that if we don’t step in and do something about the human resources for health crisis in the world there were no shortage. Just going to grow from seven point two million doctors nurses midwives to 18 million by 2030. If we don’t change how we’re addressing.

Saul Marquez: [00:06:52] It is a definite issue. And even here in the States too you like shortages are happening. How do you retain people from getting out of this business of healthcare. We have the issue here in the States too. It’s even bigger abroad. And so you seemed to be a leader, Vanessa that loves to tackle difficult challenges. Right. You go to critical care where it’s definitely not the easiest problems to address in health care. And now you’re you’re going to these countries Malawi, Tanzania Uganda, right. It’s just these countries that really need help and you’re doing the grassroots efforts. Can you give us an example of what you guys have done to create change and better outcomes there.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:07:35] Absolutely. So I can give you two examples. One example would be in Malawi in nursing where we had one of our nurse volunteer in nursing clinical educators many Weschler was working in hostile northern Malawi. And during her work she saw trauma and surgical patients who were getting their dressings and other things done without any pain medication. And she realized that there really was a lack of understanding of how much pain medication could help and that it could be used appropriately and that there was a year of addiction of these pain medications and so using a small grant that we supported she gathers and her colleagues and they work together do a practice improvement project where they ended up really redesigning not only the algorithms and protocols by which the medication could be given for these patients but how the medications are distributed in the hospital how their sort of access them. So what happened was that they ended up doing this whole education program and it not only got successfully rolled out in the wards that patients were getting their dressings changed and other procedures done with appropriate pain medication but in up getting rolled out across the hospital and I think it’s been a real example for other locations about how this can be done appropriately. And it means that patients dressings were being changed wounds were being kept clean they’re getting appropriate treatment to care infections go down and has a real in addition to just leaving people horrible pain.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:09:03] It has a real impact also just on outcomes and how people do and I think that’s really you know I think for us powerful story of how one person can institute a pretty large systemic change. Another example is Dr. Ali Asghar Caskey who is a medical student in Tanzania who taught by one of our clinician educators. After spending a couple of weeks with our educator Dr. Esther Johnson he went on to one of his other rotations and the they’re doing morning rounds there’s a baby that wasn’t breathing. And Ali Asghar instituted the protocols he learned as a clinician educator realized the baby still had a pulse he could resuscitate this baby saved the baby’s life. And Ali Asghar was so affected by the realization that he could have such an impact on a patient life with just knowledge that even more equipment necessarily ended up organizing a training for 200 other providers at his hospital became a master trainer neonate or a citation. Now he’s traveling Tanzania teaching others. And if you ask him what he wants to do when he finishes training he’ll tell you he wants to be a Tanzanian Doctor Who stays in Tanzania and who teaches others and his successors.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:10:12] I think that’s the kind of real example that we’re trying to show because Seed Global Health does is trust things on a very personal individual level your relationship and sort of you know shared problem solving. But we then really try to institute that systemically and to have that have a lasting effect across generations so that our hope is that in five 10 years we will work ourselves out of a job we will have trained their replacements. That’s a big reason that in Swaziland one of the five countries where we work now we were asked to expand to afford nursing training schools there they’re all for training schools in the country which allows us to have a really systemic countrywide impact on the quality of education and nursing leadership. It’s why the president of Liberia asked us personally to come to Liberia and help our country rebuild after Ebola and to both support medicine and nursing education and training. And I think that what we’ve been struck by is that in the last year alone we had over 20 requests for partnership or expansion which I really think speaks to our model and the reputation that we’re starting to build.

Saul Marquez: [00:11:18] I would say so as well. And what amazing stories that you’ve shared and you know just kind of puts it into perspective. There is an opportunity out there to improve outcomes and in a place where it’s appreciated not that it’s not here but there is an opportunity to truly improve outcomes for people that really need it and appreciate it. So I had a guest on my show not too long ago. He’s the chief medical officer over at Sutter Medical Group one of the things that his program provides for physicians is being able to let them go abroad and providing a stipend of like 2500 bucks to help them do that. Are you guys looking for more physicians to help with your trainings. What kind of partnership could have been here now.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:12:05] I love that. And we’re only going to solve really big problems if we do it through partnership and through collaboration.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:12:12] And I think strategically about how we can complement one another to tackle these big issues us as one of the unique things about our model that I’m very proud of is that we require people to go for a minimum of beer. Oh wow that allowed it. To and I know that seems that’s a commitment. But what it does is it allows people to build the relationships and the trust needed on the ground to be really effective at what they do.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:12:37] And one of the stories I love is that we had one of our volunteers was the guy from San Francisco who was under the bed fixing foley catheter when a Ugandan tour came through and one of the visitors asked Ugandan host whose name is Ogu which is the term for foreigner under the bed and the Ugandan host’s response was that’s not. That’s Ari and he’s one of us. And that was so striking to me about the rock the trust that we feel. And I think it’s one of the things that’s really profound for our model. We know that the big problems sometimes take big solutions. I know we’re always looking for silver bullets and fast ways to achieve big outcomes. And I think there are ways that we can contribute to healthier lives better prevention really knocking down some of the big health challenges that we see in the world through some of those answers. But we are going to have to put the time and the effort in to training people who become health leaders and can really be profound agents of change in their country see the country strategy that need to be done.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:13:44] Know how to implement the technology appropriately and in the right places know how to use silver bullets fly them widely and disseminate them. And that’s the work that he is very committed seed global health is very committed to doing.

Saul Marquez: [00:13:57] Love your vision. It’s so awesome so compelling makes me want to go out there for a year and for the listeners. If you do have that type of commitment if you are looking for that stretch you know I think this is an organization you should follow. Seed Global Health. Check them out there on LinkedIn. They’re on social media. Definitely an organization to follow. Can you give us an example of a time when it was difficult. And you know Dr. Kerry you had a setback and what you learned from that setback.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:14:30] And I feel like we’re starting an organization we’re only five years old. We’re laced with setbacks along the way just by the nature of being a young organization. We’ve had really rapid growth and that part has been incredibly I think validating and exciting to see that demand for the work we do. I think the setbacks are there’s all different types of setbacks. I mean a I would say that one of them you know just on a personal note a setback for example.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:14:59] I think that I had a just for example when I first got into this work and I remember my first trip to Uganda and I was charged with figure out ways that we could build partnerships with one of the institutions we were working with there. And I just went in gung ho ready to go in patient, time to get things done. This is TELL ME EVERYTHING you tell me and when can you meet me and how can you do it. And I got two pretty speedy feedback through you know a colleague also working there that I had managed to insult her off foot about half the partners on the ground.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:15:36] And I was really devastated by that because I went in with the best of intentions right. But what I sort of had failed to realize was one there really was a cultural norm and to to be patient. And I think that that was a very important reminder to me that I feed into our work its Seed Global Health. That’s the long hard real work is about partnership. It’s about listening. It’s about studying. It’s about understanding your context and it’s about really working together. There’s an African proverb that I will get slightly wrong but they say if you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go farther go together. And I think that’s a very important lesson that I try to carry with me every day because the work we do is hard and sometimes we do need to stop and pause and defer and really ask ourselves are we doing this right or what values are we put into it.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:16:35] And I think one of the reasons that we’ve built the reputation we’ve built and we’ve been able to expand to five countries and we’ve had the impact of training over 13000 doctors nurses and midwives in our first four years has been because we’ve tried to really adhere to that kind of philosophy.

Saul Marquez: [00:16:51] If you want to go farther go together and listeners think about this as you build your initiatives whether it be here in the states whether you be a provider or a payer industry if you want to go farther go together think about that and think about your front line what are you doing to replace yourself. What are you doing to train your bench. What are you doing to give these people decision making power. This is the focus that Dr Kerry and her organisation do so well. What are you guys and gals doing about this for your organisations because this is what’s going to determine the future is what’s going to help improve outcomes. Dr Kerry let’s focus on a good thing. Tell us one of your proudest leadership moments to date.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:17:34] Oh my gosh. I don’t know if there’s any one I have to tell you. I’m I think when I can just step back and see that Seed Global Health is working at 34 sites in five countries that we’ve helped train over 13000 doctors nurses and midwives in four short years that we’ve built a reputation you know that people want to work with us that has been a tremendous source of pride for me. Every day we have an outstanding team. I and my colleagues are incredible our partners are incredible and so every day for me frankly is one of huge pride. I think there have been moments where I’ve been pretty stunned though or that it crystallizes a little bit more strongly and I would say that one moment was in 2013 when our first group of 30 came to their orientation and lined up to go and were standing there before me and something that had started as a grassroots movement because that’s how we started. We were just an idea trying to get people to support it. To see the value of sending US physicians and nurses and midwives abroad to not just deliver care but to educate and to train and to build that from a movement into something that became reality in a way was extraordinary.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:18:52] And then when we expanded in 2014 it was announced that we’d be expanding to two new countries. That was a moment of just extraordinary pride because we were still going. But you know I got to be really honest with you every day that we’re still standing and still having an impact especially I think at a time when the world is changing so much. It makes me really proud. I think seed global health is doing really great work and it is wonderful work that not only impacts the places that we work in Africa I think it brings benefits here home to the US as well where we know that over three quarters of the people who participated in our program are working in education or with at risk populations here in the United States. And so seeing seed global health impact I think just in terms of redefining how we engage with people how we engage in health how we engage with one another some ways is really important. We try to stay humble and we try to be really iterative and try to always make seed global health be more effective at what we do.

Saul Marquez: [00:19:58] Yeah that’s really cool. And you know didn’t even think about that aspect of it but the cultural dynamics and the processes that are formed abroad can really help serve in the efforts of population health at risk populations here in the States. And I think you know like these people that have dedicated themselves and then they come back. Wow. Like I’m sure they can just put things into perspective and say to their peers hey you know what level this out. I’ve seen worse. And we can make this happen. This is pretty cool.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:20:34] Yeah I mean I think it’s we are we are very blessed with a lot of resources in this country which can make that delivery of medicine easier. I will say though part of the reason I say practicing clinically even a little bit so I stepped away from my main practice is because it’s really important to stay grounded in the vulnerability of being a patient and being reminded of that that my practice is critically important because they are patient United States are patient abroad. When you’re facing some sort of medical issue you’re suffering and hopefully here in the United States there is a possibility you know for treatment and care being able to get better. That is probably more robust and in many places it is more robust than many as we work. But. The vulnerability of being a patient is very real in all aspects and I think that’s the special thing about being a health care provider whether it’s a nurse midwife doctor or others that you really have this incredible trust to do the best you can to care for folks for sure.

Saul Marquez: [00:21:33] Yeah it sounds like you definitely are staying connected keeping that part of practice real that you know patients are people and when they’re in their biggest need that’s when they depend on you. And so I think it’s so cool. Dr. Kerry, let’s pretend you and I are building a medical leadership course on what it takes to be successful in medicine. It is the 101 course or the ABC of Vanessa Kerry M.D.. And so we’re going to run out the syllabus with this lightning round. There’s four questions and then we’re going to finish it with a recommendation for a book.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:22:10] Oh great. Sure.

Saul Marquez: [00:22:12] So here’s the syllabus. Listeners, get ready. What is the best way to improve healthcare outcomes.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:22:17] For me the best way to improve healthcare outcomes is to really put more emphasis on prevention and on trying to get to the upstream causes of disease because it’s far more cost effective and there’s far less suffering if we can cut things off earlier rather than having to worry about treating people when things are full blown. And that for me is definitely around not a treatable disease which is an increasing issue. I think globally in addition to some of the preventable infectious diseases that we could be treating earlier. But it’s something that I think we as an entire global culture need to be better at.

Saul Marquez: [00:22:52] What is the biggest mistake or pitfall to avoid.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:22:55] I would say the biggest pitfall to avoid is to assume that there is a silver bullet or a fast way around really big problems. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get a really powerful leveraging answer or impact it could have a huge effect or it needs to be often really rooted and better set in a much more long term and probably complex solution if you’re going to really tackle a complex problem.

Saul Marquez: [00:23:20] How do you stay relevant as an organization despite constant change.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:23:24] I think for seed global health we stay relevant because we’re addressing a very fundamental problem that has needed to be addressed for years the shortages of doctors nurses and midwives around the globe are very significant and only growing and it’s not a new problem. It’s one that’s been made. I can go into the history lesson but it’s a lightning round that has been made for years for a whole variety of reasons. And so for us I think we are going to remain relevant because we are tackling a fundamental problem that if we don’t tackle we’re going to find ourselves in the exact same place in 20 30 years that we are in today. And so by the nature of training health leadership and future providers any training we are insuring an investment that can you know last generations.

Saul Marquez: [00:24:07] Awesome. And finally what is one area of focus that should drive all else in your organization.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:24:14] I think the one area of focus that drives all else the Seed Global Health is that we really believe that we need to close the two standards of care that exists in the world and make sure that we increase an understanding that health is integral and essential to everything we as a global community want to do. It has to be critical to the economy. It is critical to climate is critical to political stability is critical to national and global security just to personal well-being. It can be the difference to a household being above or below the poverty line. But we live in a time it’s 2017 where there remain two very profound standard of care and that can be both across countries but even within countries and we are very committed to trying to close those two standards and just showing the world that it doesn’t need to be in 2017.

Saul Marquez: [00:25:03] Love that. What book would you recommend, Vanessa.

Saul Marquez: [00:25:06] So there are two books I think for later reading Corelli’s Mandolin is just one of my favorites. I don’t know what it is about it. My mother grew up in Italy and there was an Italian. He writes out the book I just adored. And it’s just a wonderful wonderful allegory. And then I think long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was a really extraordinary leader and you know not without tremendous sacrifice and complexity but I think his vision his beliefs his calm his patience but just his optimism that we can help people do the right thing is a really powerful message and only more so today.

Saul Marquez: [00:25:50] Love it. What a wonderful recommendation. Haven’t read that one so I’ll definitely be picking that up and listeners don’t worry about jotting this down. All of these show notes all of these books all of the links to see global can be found at outcomesrocket.com/seed that’s S E E D. And you’ll be able to access everything that we’ve discussed in a nice neat format and linkable to all the things that you want. So Dr. Kerry I just want to say thank you so much. But before we conclude I just want to offer one opportunity to give a closing thought to the listeners and then the best place where they could reach you and your team.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:26:28] Thank you so much for letting me in the story of seed global health join you today. I think my closing thought is that we really should be optimistic about these big problems are solvable. We just need to join together to I think tackle them and all bring our different strengths to the table. But I think most importantly we as a global community just need to think strategically about what are the ways that we can make us healthier, happier or safer and for us at people health our contribution is really about building that health care leadership the doctors nurses and midwives needed in these places of dire burdens of disease. But without the needed personnel to help them tackle it. And if we can create a global population that is healthy. And from that comes opportunity and hopefully I believe more peace security in all of these things. So I think it is about dreaming big but making sure that we make a contribution to that vision. If you want to find out more about the global health you can go to www.seedglobalhealth.org. And again that’s S E E D like planting seeds for global health for years to come. Thank you so much for letting us join you.

Saul Marquez: [00:27:44] It’s been a pleasure Vanessa and looking forward to keeping up with your organization and what your team accomplishes here in upcoming years.

Vanessa Kerry: [00:27:51] Thanks.

: [00:27:55] For listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.health for the show notes, resources inspiration and so much more.

Recommended Book/s:

Corelli’s Mandolin: A Novel

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Mentioned Link/s:


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