Dr. Vanessa Kerry is the daughter of Senator John Kerry. She has created a partner ship with Peace Corps Response to send doctors and nurses overseas. Kerry was interviewed on NRP about the new Peace Corps Response program. (Read the transcript of the interview at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/09/18/161381770/a-peace-corps-for-doctors-built-by-a-senators-daughter In describing the program, Kerry stated:
“The Peace Corps doesn’t have the technical capacity to do clinical medicine and nursing,” Kerry says. “But they do well at deploying people in a sensitive, integrated way.”
This is outrageous. Peace Corps nurses have served with distinction and courage for over fifty years. Doctors have also served as Volunteers, although not nearly as many. John Coyne reports that Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet is contacting NPR for a correction. It is good that Hessler-Radelet is on this.
No one doubts the great need for doctors and nurses in the developing world, so the effort to provide them certainly should be applauded. However, Kerry’s ignorance of Peace Corps history speaks to a real problem.
Kerry’s work is in the field of international health. She directs a global health program at Harvard Medical School and works at the Center for Global Health at Massachusetts General. But, because she is ignorant of the role Peace Corps nurses and doctors have played; she has never used their cross-cultural experience in her programs.
Although Kerry lives and works in Boston and her father, Senator John Kerry has certainly availed himself of the Kennedy mystic, she evidently has never visited the JFK Presidential library. If she had, she would have found over 400 oral histories by RPCVs. (See: http://188.8.131.52/RPCV/RPCV-FA.pdf) A quick check showed 12 oral histories by medical personnel; beginning with Drs. Mary Frantz and her husband Dr. John Frantz who were Volunteers in Afghanistan, 1968 to 1970 and ending with R.N. Sara Williams, a nurse in Peru 2008 – 2009. The interviewees chose to do the oral histories. The interviews do not represent any kind of statistical sample. One can assume, however, that each nurse or doctor was in a training group with other medical personnel. It was Robert Klein who started the project to retrieve and preserve these personal histories of Volunteers. The Peace Corps agency disassembled its in-house library years ago. But, these are sources that Kerry could have tapped.
Kerry could have contacted Dr. Christopher Doran a Volunteer who served in Botswana starting in 2008 and worked in HIV prevention. He is the author of a humorous look at his time: Africa Lite. Or, she could have read the classic 1966, Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps edited by Peace Corps Icon, Dr. Robert B. Textor. The case study: “Nurses in Tanganyika” still has relevance, today.
Didn’t anyone tell Kerry about the heroic Peace Corps nurses of the Dominican Republic? When a civil war erupted in that country in 1965, Peace Corps nurses stayed their hospital posts, treating the wounded of all sides and earning universal commendation for their courage. Their action demonstrated to a sometimes cynical Congress that Peace Corps did work.
Finally, I see a major transition for Peace Corps. Kerry negotiated a partnership with Peace Corps Response. The transcript of the interview states:
“After persuading the Peace Corps to get on board, she worked with them to got money from the federal government (through PEPFAR, a $15 billion program to fight HIV/AIDS) to help pay for the health corps.”
This creates a two-tier system within Peace Corps. The doctor and nurse Response Volunteers who enter via this Global Health program will be reimbursed up to $30,000 per year of service with privately raised funds* to pay off their student loans. Peace Corps Volunteers, with medical educations, who enter via the regular program and commit to two years service receive no such help. That is inherently unfair.
And I wonder if anyone said there are no nurses and doctors in the Peace Corps because they couldn’t afford to serve. I wonder if that was the basis to award these financial incentives.
*(This has been corrected. Originally, it was written that federal funds would be used to help Volunteers in this program. That was in error.)