Martin’s Point Physician Brings Skill and Compassion Overseas to Treat Women in Bangladesh
When Sara Hoffman, PA-C, joined our Martin’s Point Scarborough Health Care Center in 2017 and learned about the organization’s Volunteer Time Off (VTO) benefit, a lightbulb went on. Here was the chance to combine her passions for medicine, travel, and helping others in underdeveloped countries all at once.
Fast-forward to March 2019, when that spark took her more than 7,500 miles from Maine to Tangail, a city near the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. There, Sara cared for 120 women over the course of six days, as a volunteer with Maine-based Partners for World Health.
Six days in southeast Asia
Her patients were sex workers—and not by choice. Her clinic was a small space in a brothel, where she had a stethoscope and common medicines like anti-inflammatories and antibiotics to work with. Sara communicated with patients with the help of an interpreter and a volunteer nurse assisted as Sara addressed a variety of acute, primary care needs, as well diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Although commuting by tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) was different, Sara was unfazed by the communication barrier and lack of diagnostic equipment. “In Scarborough, I see a lot of women who are immigrants from Iraq,” she explains. “I’m used to learning about a patient’s health by what she tells me about her history.”
It was, however, difficult to learn that women who wanted to leave the brothel could not. “The 300 women and children who live there are outcasts, no longer accepted by society. Some of the workers are as young as 12. Many even raise children there,” she explained. “Some had been kidnapped. Some were orphans. Many could not afford medical care.”
“It was important to me to put them at ease by making eye contact, being personable, listening to their stories, and giving them space and privacy,” says Sara. “And so fulfilling to care for people who don’t have the access to health care or the means to pay for it.”
Fulfilling a lifelong dream
Sara’s background made her a perfect candidate for the mission. First drawn to a career in medicine as a volunteer health care worker with the Peace Corps in Zambia, she later gained experience with female patients in gynecology/obstetrics. Then, as a professor in the physician assistant program at University of New England, she connected with Partners for World Health, which coordinates medical missions in Africa and southeast Asia and redistributes unused surplus medical supplies locally and around the world.
“I’ve always wanted to complete an international medical mission,” concludes Sara. “And with help from our VTO benefit, I’m looking forward to another one.”