Faculty voice:

Joe Gorz: Finding a calling in the Amazon basin

April 20, 2016

Joe Gorz is an assistant professor of family and community medicine. He's currently in his family medicine residency at McLaren Oakland in Pontiac. Gorz earned his bachelor’s degree in human biology from the college of Lyman Briggs. He is a member of the class of 2013 at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine where he founded the primary care based Peru Medical Elective. While he was at MSU, he helped found the DOCARE chapter at MSUCOM. Today he serves as the co-coordinator and oversees all aspects of the Peru Medical Elective.

What began in August 2008 as a joint medical mission to Peru between the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Human Medicine at MSU has evolved into a medical ministry.

Joe Gorz and students on a boat

The trip was initially called the Peru Medical Mission. It was a two-week trip where we set up a mobile clinic and treated patients. In those days, there was not much follow-up care. We did not work with local physicians; we had one or two medical students that would weigh in and give us insight, and we had a relatively undeveloped research program. After working there for three years, something began to change within us.

From that point, the Peru Medical elective was born. We chose the word "elective" because we all elected to travel 3,500 miles, take time off of work, and spend our own money. We spent time fundraising extra money so that we could bring enough medicine to last a few months.

We started to collaborate with local medical students to provide ongoing medical care. We were lucky if the medications we provided would last 3 to 6 months. With this came a change in location. Although we loved the town of Huamchuco, we needed to find an area where the government and people would be receptive to sustainable care. Additionally, we had to make sure it was logistically feasible to get to the new location; the town had been a two-day trip from the city of Lima.

During the next year, we elected to go to an unknown village outside the capitol called Mala and take the chance to go to the Amazon basin. This exploration into the unknown unexpectedly made us realize the necessity of our service in the Amazon basin. There, at an old military hospital, we found our calling — a community that was willing to embrace us and offer us their facility. They would help us send these patients to the capitol city of Peru, Lima, to receive the necessary treatments. They never asked what we could do for them, but always asked what they could do for us. At the same time, we also secured full practicing rights in Peru for D.O.s.

Joe Gorz in a village in Peru

This is where we transformed into the Peru Global Outreach Program. We were no longer a two-week mission. We worked with the local government to demonstrate the importance of having physicians treating their community. They purchased four mobile medical trailers, where dental, gynecological, pediatric and general medical exams could be performed.

These mobile trailers, along with a permanent site offering free health care, allowed us to cover a larger population. With a standing location, we could provide care within 25 square miles. Implementing the mobile clinics allowed us to expand our grid to treat even more patients. We also overlap these containers so that the patients still have the necessary follow-up care. To combat the issue of resources, we have partnered with non-profit organizations such as Rotary International, Project C.U.R.E. and DOCARE International as well as MSU.

Today, some would say "mission accomplished." We have treated more than 12,000 patients, trained more than 231 medical students, published 63 abstracts and have a fully funded endowment account for student scholarships. Additionally, we have had 5 consecutive years of 18 percent of the first year Osteopathic Medical Students applying to attend this mission.

Today, with all these organizations, we are writing a new chapter with more than a name change. We will be utilizing organizations like Project C.U.R.E. which, this coming December in 2016, will be dropping off a crate full of new and refurbished medical supplies. These supplies will include examinations tables, microscopes, hemoccults, speculums, autoclaves, CVC machines, EKGs, PFTs, ultrasounds and much more.

Having this basic equipment, will allow Peruvian doctors to treat patients and keep proper records. We will also begin to categorize the pathology of diseases to help treat the one hundred patients with cataracts, the fifty with cleft palates and those with uterine prolapses. We will be able to partner with other organizations such as Project Smile, or a non-profit ophthalmology mission, to share our facilities, including our two major and one minor O.R.s to truly change these peoples’ lives.

Joe Gorz examines a patient

We are no longer going to be on the defense. Rather, we are going to go on the offense. We are going to tackle medical aliments, and if surgery is warranted, we will offer these services. However, we are not going to stop there. We are working with non-profits to bring in a regional vaccination campaign. In undertaking this, our initial goal would be to inoculate around 50,000- 100,000 people. This will not happen overnight, but with help from Rotary International and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this can became a reality.

Photos by Kurt Stepnitz