Dr. Deborah Turner, of Des Moines, introduces herself as a gynecologic/oncologist.
Say that five times real fast. Not only can I barely say it, I’m not even sure if I’ve spelled it right. She specializes in cancer in women.
Dr. Turner is also the 2013 Winter Team Leader of the Outreach Medical Mission Team to Tanzania. Thirty-two medical professionals and support staff will rack up 24,000 frequent flyer miles on this trip.
Each night after dinner she encourages the team to share their struggles and successes of the day. She ends the session with inspirational quotes from great people like Dr. Martin Luther King and her parents, Willy and May Belle. My favorite is, “May Belle used to say, ‘There are no big ‘I’s’ and no little ‘U’s’ in our family. And that’s what it takes to make a team.”
I have watched doctors with national prominence covered with sweat and dirt from moving medical supplies from a storage shed to the Singida hospital.
I’ve seen Kathy Hammer, the co-founder of Outreach, sitting on the floor scrubbing dried blood off a surgery table.
I’ve watched the team navigate political issues with aplomb. Watching this team has been beautiful.
Getting a large team headed in the same direction is like roping squirrels in a rodeo. I’ve led enough international mission teams to know they can either run as smooth as a brand new Lexus or turn into a fifty-car pileup on the interstate.
Here is what I’ve learned watching this team;
- Everyone is willing to do what needs to be done regardless of professional status
- A shared vision unites people
- When giving of yourself to others is the motivation, extra consideration towards each other becomes automatic
- Each person treats the other with mutual respect regardless of title or education level
- They discuss opinions in a positive and complimentary manner
- They defer to the expertise of the person most skilled in a particular area
- They measure their success, or their failure, as a team, not as an individual
- They are quick to ask for help
I’ve also observed that sharing similar struggles unites them:
- They’ve left state-of-the-art equipment and medicines in the U.S. to work with antiquated equipment and limited supplies of basic medications
- They wipe sweat from their foreheads in hot and stuffy rooms with poor ventilation and patients with strong enough body odor to drop a moose at fifty paces
- They fight enormous frustration of not being able to easily fix a malady they have no resources for in Africa, but abundant supplies back home to fix
- They weep over irreparable damage from diseases that could have been avoided with simple immunization or clean water and sanitation
Their beauty blended in well with the landscape of Africa. They lived up to May Belle’s maxim: I have seen no big “I’s” and no little “U’s.”