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Generational Healing: The Sagar Family’s HVO Story

Drs. Sushil and Ankita Sagar have been father and daughter HVO volunteers since 2019. Dr. Ankita Sagar is the project director of the HVO internal medicine project in Costa Rica where she has also volunteered. Dr. Sushil Sagar has volunteered in India and Costa Rica. They had intended to go to Bhutan, but the pandemic interrupted their plans. Here, they share their experiences volunteering together.

How and when did you find out about HVO?

SS: Ankita introduced to me the idea of joining an organization that was working globally because I was trying to supplement my knowledge about the effects of climate change on acute and chronic diseases. As Ankita was exploring her passion of volunteering, I was doing the same in parallel. We happened to come across HVO individually. And we started our journey together.

AS: I was a few years out of training, and I was passionate about bringing my knowledge to other cultures and countries. Part of it was also because I felt I had to learn more about the global delivery of healthcare. I came across HVO through the American College of Physicians. I remember going to one of the sessions at the national meeting where HVO representatives were presenting on volunteerism and opportunities for internists. I was hooked.

What drew you to the organization?

SS: HVO is one of the few organizations that brings volunteers from across the country and all walks of life to deliver healthcare education. It goes beyond any geographic boundaries. It empowers volunteers to extend their expertise in a structured manner. Making it easier to serve and learn.

AS: HVO’s belief is that learning can be extended to all parts of the world. More importantly, that training local talent and empowering them to continue bringing better healthcare for their local communities is key. Unlike other organizations that may bring in volunteers for a week or two of “complex cases,” HVO is about preserving the independence of the individual learner and community. It is about investing in the future generation of expert healthcare teams at the local community level.

Where have you served?

SS: Bangalore, Costa Rica (remotely), and Bhutan is pending due to COVID.

I am enthusiastic about sharing knowledge, especially remotely.

AS: I have only served in Costa Rica – it was love at first site. Pura Vida!

Do you share experiences with each other?

SS: Yes, I share all my experiences with Ankita. We collaborate with each other and take each other’s experiences and opinions seriously. For example, during my Costa Rica planning she helped me identify my approach to specific topics to make sure it serves the learners well.

AS: My father (and mother!) were my first role models for physicians and they continue to serve that role. They come to their work with intentionality – to provide the best care possible and the best education possible. The love of medicine is generational, and the shared experiences have only further enhanced my growth as a physician and a human.

I understand you collaborated on e-learning lectures for the Costa Rica project. What was that like, to work together? Was it the first time working together on a project?

SS: Yes, this was our first time working together and it was a great experience. I have to commend the HVO team and Dr. Acuña Feoli in Costa Rica. He helped me to learn about helpful formats for remote learning, specify which topics are better delivered through e-learning, and the enthusiasm for case discussions.

AS: It was the first time that I was the project director, and my father was a volunteer. A bit of role reversal for us. It was fantastic! I still remember reading his bio out loud at the beginning of the series of lectures and it was a proud moment for me. It was also humbling because as I read his bio, I saw my father through the eyes of a colleague. I felt a deep and genuine sense of appreciation for this dedication to improving the burden of kidney disease globally.

Do you envision traveling together in the future?

SS: Yes, we would love to travel together. I would love to be on a team with Ankita.

AS: Agree – I distinctly look forward to the opportunity to be on-site together, as both colleagues & father-daughter.

Are there any particularly memorable experiences you would like to share?

SS: There are many, and a few distinct experiences:

  1. The faculty and learners at the Bangalore Baptist hospital impressed me with their bedside rounding and learning. After my didactic presentation, I would accompany the junior residents on their rounds – an experience of bringing teaching to the bedside. They have immense pathology and complexity in cases. But their dedication far outweighs the complexity.
  2. E-learning in Costa Rica was fantastic. The learners are fantastic in their curiosity and the knowledgeable questions they asked. The experience of working with Dr. Acuña Feoli helped me prep the questions for residents.

AS: I remember meeting Dr. Acuña Feoli for the first time at the entrance of the hospital and he was so kind. I felt like I was meeting a longtime friend. Costa Rica is a unique healthcare system that serves the needs of the nation. I feel that while I may have arrived to teach, I probably walked away with more lessons learned than I provided. The faculty are knowledgeable, kind, committed, and just phenomenal. In the residents, I saw my own younger self – balancing learning with patient care. And, it was heartwarming to realize that we have similar challenges and victories. Lastly, I always walk away realizing that while I have some knowledge to impart, I also have much more to learn.

Are you planning future HVO assignments?

SS: I would like to explore more opportunities as HVO opens up again.

AS: Likewise – the world and opportunities are enormous. I would love to go back to Costa Rica and bring my father with me.

We are excited for Drs. Ankita and Sushil Sagar to volunteer again!

HVO is hopeful that our project in Costa Rica will begin accepting volunteers again later this year, both in-person and virtually. Projects in Cambodia, India, and Nepal are currently accepting volunteers.