Volunteer Spotlight: HVO Golden Apple Award Recipient Cynthia Howard, MD, MPHTM

Although 2018 Golden Apple Award Recipient Cynthia Howard, MD, MPHTM “had never really volunteered before,” when she first learned of HVO in 1996, the pediatrician already had ample experience practicing medicine in resource-scarce settings.

“I had worked a bit abroad,” she recalled during a recent interview. Her international work experiences included time spent in Gaza as a student, one month in India and four years in Nigeria.

Intrigued by HVO’s short-term, education-based volunteer model, Dr. Howard read up on the organization through the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which sponsors HVO’s pediatrics program.

“I missed Africa . . . I wasn’t planning to return for a long-term career abroad, but I really wanted to get back to Africa and to teach. I realized while in Nigeria that the biggest impact I made was encouraging young students to pursue pediatrics.”

Since completing her first HVO assignment in Kampala, Uganda in 1997, Dr. Howard has continued to volunteer two times per year, every year. This includes completing more than a dozen assignments at HVO’s collaborating institutions Makerere University and Mulago Hospital in Kampala.

“It has impacted my career in a lot of ways,” she said of her global volunteer experience. Specifically, Dr. Howard noted that working with colleagues in resource-scarce settings and understanding their perspectives influenced her approach to patient care at home in the US. In addition, Dr. Howard has learned about diseases rarely seen in the US, and her ability to serve immigrant and refugee patients has improved.

In turn, Dr. Howard and her fellow volunteers continue to contribute to the increased quality and availability of pediatric care in Kampala through their work with local providers at Mulago Hospital, and with those in training at Makerere University. Over the last two decades, Dr. Howard has watched the capacity of these two institutions expand as a result of the combined commitment of HVO volunteers and their Ugandan colleagues. For example, Drs. Yvonne Vaucher and Margaret Nakakeeto collaborated to improve access to neonatology training. Together, Dr. Howard stated, the two women “have been a powerhouse . . . providing care and teaching and inspiring young people to go into neonatology.”

Other improvements resulting from the partnership between HVO, Mulago Hospital, and Makerere University include the launch of two clinics—one for adolescent patients and one for individuals with diabetes—and the implementation of G6PD deficiency screening.

“I think developing professional relationships with international colleagues – teaching together and exchanging ideas provides not only personal satisfaction, but the opportunity to build pediatric capacity together.”

Motivated by this belief, Dr. Howard is not only a committed volunteer, but a leader within the global health community. She is a member of HVO’s pediatrics steering committee, and served as project director for HVO’s pediatrics project in Kampala from 1998-2004. She is also Director of the Global Pediatrics Division and the Global Medical Education and Research program at the University of Minnesota. A year prior to receiving the HVO Golden Apple Award, she was recognized by both AAP and the Consortium of Universities for Global Health for her contributions to global health education.

Thinking back to 1996, Dr. Howard recalled, “When I look[ed] at HVO’s mission and saw that education was the mission – that the vision was to improve the health of people in resource-limited places through education – it was a good fit. I think developing professional relationships is one of the best impacts we can make.”

Certainly, the professional relationships Dr. Howard established through her work with HVO had a significant impact on the quality and availability of pediatric care in Kampala and throughout Uganda, while simultaneously impacting Dr. Howard and her career. This is one of the reasons Dr. Howard recommends HVO so strongly to students and colleagues interested in volunteering in resource-scarce settings.

“I highly recommend HVO because of the mission, but also because of the people, the emphasis on sustainability . . . as well as the infrastructure that is provided before, during and after travel.”

Dr. Howard has been instrumental in building this infrastructure for HVO’s pediatrics training project in Uganda. Together with her fellow volunteers, and colleagues at Mulago Hospital and Makerere University, Dr. Howard helped lay a foundation that will lead to sustainable progress for years to come.

Keep an eye out for all our Golden Apple awardee features over the next several months! Just follow our “Health Worker Story” category.

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