Doctors Without Borders recruits in Dearborn

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Charlotte Joubert, a registered nurse, spent nearly 40 years in the medical field before retiring. She has also  volunteered for missions that have taken her around the world. 

That’s why Joubert of Detroit attended a recruitment event Thursday in Dearborn for Doctors Without Borders, which is seeking more medical professionals and others to join the international medical humanitarian group’s efforts.

Doctors Without Borders holds a recruitment event at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn on Thursday. The international medical organization is trying to recruit more Arabic-speaking doctors.

“To me, they’re like celebrities,” the Detroiter said about members of the group. “I like to be around like-minded people. They’re well organized.” 

The experiences that potential recruits may find, and how their skills could help the group’s efforts around the world, anchored the event at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, its French acronym, has regular recruiting efforts but is looking for more professionals  particularly for programs in the Middle East and Arabic-speaking countries, said Rogier van Helmond, a field human resources officer. Two other recruiting events were held in the Midwest this week.

Dr. Namita Sharma explains the work of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders during a recruitment event at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn on Thursday.

The need is rising since “our work in the field is becoming more specialized,” he said. “We’re interested in reaching out to diverse communities.”

More than 60 people heard him and others with MSF recount their time serving abroad as well as the organization’s mission.

Officially launched in 1971, Doctors Without Borders delivers emergency aid to people without health care or those affected by armed conflict, epidemics and natural or man-made disasters, representatives said.

Each year, the group’s doctors, nurses, logisticians, water and sanitation experts, administrators, and other professionals depart for more than 7,700 aid assignments, according to the group. They work with more than 30,900 locally hired staff to provide medical care.

The group had programs in 68 countries last year — 56 percent of which were in Africa, while the Middle East segment is growing, van Helmond said. 

Many projects follow conflict or internal instability, he said. Van Helmond cautioned that potential recruits typically are sent to where the greatest needs remain rather than their preferred destination. Once on the ground, they can help with local staff on a host of initiatives: from mobile clinics to water/sanitation improvements and vaccination campaigns.

“We have this culture of trying to change things, of trying to be innovative,” van Helmond said.

Dr. Namita Sharma, a Michigan-based pediatrician, shared photos and stories of her stints serving in Tanzania in 2015 and South Sudan in 2017, tending to underweight infants, seeing patients under mosquito nets, living in quarters where even hair-washing was difficult.

The staff and volunteers, who hailed from around the world, had protection, Sharma said. "I never had any issues in either location and I felt very comfortable."

Between morning-long rounds and sometimes translating patients' needs in multiple languages, close bonds form with the teammates, most of whom are locals, Sharma said. "It’s a bittersweet moment the day you leave because you spend so much time with the staff."

The session was enlightening for Alex Green, a third-year Wayne State University medical student who has an international relations degree, speaks Arabic and recently returned from a fellowship in Jordan. Hearing about the need for more participants with his skills, he hopes to join after completing a residency. 

“This is my dream organization,” he said, still wearing a white lab coat. “It gives me more of an impetus to prepare.”

Detailing the daily routines during the global duties interested  Sarah Yahfoufi, a University of Michigan Dearborn student who left excited about someday signing up.

"It's nice to address the reality ... ," she said.

Maryann Choucair, another UM-Dearborn student, was impressed to learn the group works to remain politically neutral.

"It's about humanity and very unbiased," she said.