Dr. Helene Calvet received her MD from UCLA School of Medicine in 1989 and is board-certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases. She has worked in the field of public health for the past 17 years, running a tuberculous clinic for over a decade, and has been involved in sexually transmitted infections education for over 20 years, delivering sexually transmitted infections training to providers in the Southwest, Pacific jurisdictions, Mexico, and Vietnam. Recently she did some consulting for the World Health Organization in Bangladesh. Dr. Calvet has volunteered on various medical projects in Guatemala and has been involved with cervical cancer screening projects in Latin America. She was also a member of the inaugural CMMB mission trip to Zambia in September 2017.

Dr. Helene says, “being more involved in mission trips has changed me…” This spotlight is about how and why.

Meet Dr. Helene Calvet

Dr. Helene Calvet-Sept Mwandi Mission Trip

What inspired you to pursue mission work? 

I have always felt called to mission work, and did some early in my career before I got married and had my daughter. Even when I was busy with building a career and raising my family, I was able to do some short term mission trips, a few of which involved my husband and daughter (neither of whom are medical people), so those were really special. In approaching retirement, I wanted to get back into mission work, which I felt would be more meaningful than my prior work and give me the opportunity and privilege to serve some of the neediest people in the world.

In my first year of “semi-retirement,” I pursued additional training in tropical medicine and global health so I could be more effective, but due to family obligations, was limited in the amount of time I could spend on mission trips (two weeks max).  Although the three trips I made over the course of a year-and-a-half were very rewarding, they were also great learning experiences. I learned about the challenges of delivering care in a very resource poor area, and that it’s difficult to have a great impact in a short amount of time. Short term mission trips are most successful with a lot of advanced planning, buy-in from the local partners, and specific goals that could be realistically met in the time period allotted.

Helene Calvet and other members of the medical mission team in the field

Not every place will benefit from short-term missions, and communication barriers and cultural differences can make it difficult to determine if a place is well-suited until you show up. So, you live and learn. Since I hope to be doing this work for the next 15-20 years, I am now trying to be more selective about how I spend my time, expertise, and resources on mission work. I have also found some very satisfying mission work right in my own community — one does not need to travel half way around the world to find people in need, albeit the levels of need are very different.

How have your mission experiences changed you? 

Being more involved in mission work has changed me both personally and professionally. On the personal level, I have witnessed levels of need I have never seen before, which has re-confirmed my commitment to this work, and has altered my world view a bit. I have also had the privilege to experience new cultures, yet realize that deep down, we are all the same. On a professional level,  I have learned new things, rekindled some old knowledge, become more flexible, felt the bitter futility of seeing people die from potentially preventable/treatable illnesses, and have developed a true and deep appreciation for those who practice in resource poor settings. 

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