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Suzanne Brown: Making an Impact in Cambodia

For over twenty years, Suzanne Brown, CRNA has been volunteering with HVO all over the world with assignments in Guyana, Laos, Belize, Bhutan, and Cambodia. She got her start when HVO Executive Director Nancy Kelly contacted the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists looking for volunteers. At the time, Ms. Brown was a member of the organization’s Council for Public Interest in Anesthesia. She had already volunteered with few mission trips abroad and liked the concept of HVO’s program. Her first trip was to Guyana and her second to Belize, but it was not until she traveled to Cambodia with the anesthesia project that she was hooked. “It was addictive after that,” she says of her first trip to the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap. While she had enjoyed her previous mission trips, what stood out to her about HVO is the sustainable model. After other trips she had asked herself, “How can I have a bigger impact?” HVO seemed to offer the answer through its teaching and training programming.

To have the biggest impact, she chose to return to the same site in Cambodia frequently over the years, making a total of nine trips between 2005 and 2015. When she first began, the anesthetic procedures being performed were fairly basic. But the group of nurse anesthetists Ms. Brown was working with were clearly interested in learning more and furthering their education, and the CEO of the hospital impressed her with his philosophy of improving care for patients through continued learning. By the time of her last trip, providers were performing their own open-heart surgeries, had moved on to sophisticated anesthesia delivery, and were even teaching in other hospitals in Asia.

Another welcome development Ms. Brown witnessed across the decade was the empowerment of local practitioners. During her first visit, she was invited to attend a meeting of the department heads. Each one of them had brought along a foreign volunteer. At the same meeting years later, she had a different experience—of being the only volunteer in the room. To Ms. Brown, this was a sign that local health providers had more confidence, knowledge, and skill, and no longer had the same level of need from outside sources.

Ms. Brown met many wonderful people during her travels, but one in particular stood out to her. There was a particular nurse anesthetist she would always see reading, in English (his third language), to learn more every extra moment he had. Never before had she been so impressed with someone’s dedication to improving patient care. Eventually he went on to volunteer himself, through Operation Smile, and even came to the United States to present a lecture at the new OHSU Nurse Anesthesia program in Oregon.

To new volunteers, Ms. Brown advises: “Take your expectations and cut them in half. If you accomplish half of what you set out to do, you’ve been successful.”

She also cautions, “Be careful. This can be addictive!”

Ms. Brown is taking a step back from her work in Cambodia now that she is retired, but she remains a part of HVO. She hopes to help restart HVO’s project in Belize in the capacity of a consultant and continues to be a generous donor. Ms. Brown chooses to donate unrestricted funds because she knows HVO is a good steward and will use her gifts well.

Thank you for all your service and support! We wish you the best.