Why global health affects us all


My essay “Thinking of Global Aid As Population Health” was published in the latest issue of Health Progress. It was a chance to showcase the great work our caregivers are doing to improve the health of people in Guatemala and gain a new perspective on the world in the process.

Recently, the editor of Health Progress invited me to write about why the health of developing nations should matter to health care providers in the United States. I gladly took him up on the offer because this is a topic I have been passionate about for years.

All you have to do is turn on cable news to see that our world is more connected than ever. Whether the headlines are focused on bird flu, measles or Ebola, it’s clear that infectious disease knows no boundaries and can travel in an instant from one continent to another.

While we remain vigilant and committed to the health of communities here at home, our responsibility to serve those in need extends beyond our borders. It’s a spirit of international service that has been part of the Providence tradition since our earliest days.

Though it’s hard to imagine now, Providence Health & Services got its start as the result of international aid nearly 160 years ago. If Mother Joseph and four other Sisters of Providence had not answered the call to leave their home in Montreal, Quebec to serve the new American frontier, health care in the Western United States would look very different today.

Guatemala: A focus on sustainability

The Health Progress essay gave me a chance to talk about Providence’s work in the central highlands of Guatemala, one of the most impoverished regions in the world. Our approach is innovative and noteworthy because we are focused on creating sustainable, measurable improvements in the health of the region. It has required us to form strong, meaningful relationships with one of the major local hospitals and universities in Guatemala, as well as key in-country NGOs. It is also a multi-year commitment to improve the region’s key health indicators. In some ways, it is population health in action, and we can apply many of the things we learn in Guatemala here at home.

I know other caregivers across Providence share my sense of pride in the program because hundreds of us have volunteered for service trips to Guatemala over the last few years. The experience has given us a profound new perspective on the world.

You can find my Health Progress essay here. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think in the comments section below, and if you have participated on one of our service trips, I would love to hear what it meant to you.

Hosting exchange students: Another great experience

I also thought it would be fun to share a recent blog post by two medical exchange students from Guatemala, Sofia and Julia. My wife Nancy and I had the pleasure of hosting them for a month earlier this year at our home in Seattle. The future is in good hands with bright, talented individuals like these two. I have no doubt they will make a lasting impact in their home community and the world.


Sight seeing: My daughter Alyssa and I had fun playing Seattle tour guide for our Guatemalan exchange students Sofia and Julia. Our family really enjoyed getting to know these bright young students and learning about their culture. (Not to mention that driving them to Swedish bright and early every morning for their inpatient rotation reminded me of my own days as a resident.)

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  1. As I prepare the fourth surgical team from Southern California to serve in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, your article in Health Progress was perfectly timed. It provided helpful context for our first team meeting, at which we discussed how this international ministry is aligned with the Hopes and Aspirations of our Sisters. It also framed the focused surgical work as simply one aspect of the complex work required to improve the health of a community.
    It is a privilege to recruit and lead a new group of volunteers each year, and to witness the awakening of their passion for service & teamwork as they encounter the people of Guatemala. Words cannot capture the enormous impact these service trips have on our PH&S caregivers who participate. Most of them tell me their lives have been forever changed by the experience, and that the trip reminds them of why they entered healthcare: for the joy of helping others.

  2. I always look forward to reading post and updates about the volunteer work being done in Guatemala. This work and message is imperative to awakening all to the realities of the impoverished and less fortunate. The progress is amazing. THANK YOU to ALL that have the privilege to take on this responsibility.

  3. Thank for the great essay Dr Hochman. Also, I very much appreciate the homage to the work of the Providence Mission Warehouse in the “nebulizer story”… It is a thrilling thought that the Providence Supply Chain careism “we fill the hands that heal” has a world-wide population health implication. The next time I volunteer to sort supplies for shipment at the Mission Warehouse I will most certainly remember this story and what it all means to someone I will never meet, and the connectedness of global population health to my own community.

    Today, I am proud to be Providence!

    Tim Hagler

  4. I always look forward to reading post and updates about the volunteer work being done in Guatemala. This work and message is imperative to awakening all to the realities of the impoverished and less fortunate. The progress is amazing. THANK YOU to ALL that have the opportunity to take on this responsibility.

  5. Great work in continuing and expanding our international efforts to improve health care in Guatemala. This is important work and deserves this recognition and attention.

    I must add that as deserving as this is, the focus, attention and your writing about Providence’s efforts to improve the health in the US population here. The facts are well known and very troubling and worthy of your comment.

    According to the World Health Organization and CIA World Fact Book
    Health care in the United States fairs poorly compared to the rest of the world in most areas.
    For example compared to Guatemala where because of social causes mostly the death rate per 1000 is twice as high as the US, however the head hangs low when looking at other areas:

    Infant Mortality – total – (deaths per 1000 live births)
    Guatemala = 6.17
    US = 23.51 Astounding!

    Life expectancy at birth:
    Guatemala = 79.56
    US = 71.74
    And that is with a death rate half of Guatemala’s!

    And, of course, one of the most troubling of all is access to health care where the US has consistently ranked at or very near last compared to all other developed nations in the world.

    The comparisons are as bad across the board. We would all appreciate your insights on your blog as to Providence’s approach to these very serious international comparisons.

    Bill Stites

    • Hi Bill – I am with you on this. The U.S. spends more on health care than any other industrialized country yet our outcomes are among the worst. I can go on about this topic for days. I’ll put this on the list for future blog topics. But what I will say now is that our teams at Providence are doing great work to improve health care in the Western US and I believe we will be a model for the rest of the country.

  6. Great view:>)