Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Mary Ellen Thurman Finds Opportunity in Adaptability

Dr. Mary Ellen Thurman is an anesthesiologist practicing in St. Louis, Missouri. This year’s India trip was her first visit to India but her second trip with LEAP. Mary Ellen became involved with LEAP when she was a fellow under Dr. Tommy Spain, a pediatric anesthesiologist and longtime LEAP volunteer, after hearing about her co-fellow Dr. Rachel Rhem’s experience with LEAP in Haiti.

The teamwork and good nature of other volunteers are Mary Ellen’s favorite parts of each trip. “Surrounding yourself with people filled with pure love. These trips just make you feel good!” She goes on to say how much she appreciates getting more contact with patients than she does back home. “Each patient encounter is kind of an experience in itself; each is different from the next one. I know I am making a difference in each patient’s life. It’s just a really good experience overall.”

Mary Ellen acknowledges the differences between working on a mission trip and working at home. “The surgical settings are different, like using simple anesthesia machines. More adaptability is required. At home, we have anything at our disposal, but here, resources are limited. You have to improvise your anesthetic plan based on the resources.” She does not see this as a negative. Instead, Mary Ellen views this as a learning opportunity. “I’m learning to do my practice with limited resources while still doing it well. When you’re back at home, it’s a luxury; I have all this backup equipment and help. Here, you have to learn to adapt and do your job with what you’ve got. Doing this makes me a better doctor.”