Dr. Jessica Lee’s career path was forged early. As the daughter of an OMS practicing in South Korea, Dr. Lee witnessed firsthand the transformative effect of a cleft lip and palate repair on a 14-year-old boy who had lived as an outcast, excluded from school and community life because of his facial deformity.
Dr. Lee resolved at a young age that she would acquire the knowledge to similarly transform the lives of children whose circumstances cried out for skilled hands and a generous heart. In March 2019, she saw a personal and professional goal realized when she joined Dr. Shahid Aziz’s Smile Bangladesh humanitarian surgical team for a week-long cleft lip and palate repair clinic in Khulna, Bangladesh.
A Global Initiative for Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) award from the OMS Foundation helped to cover her travel costs. Dr. Lee is one of the first recipients of a $2,500 travel stipend through the Foundation’s new GIVE program. Her dual aspirations to surgical excellence and humanitarian service were a perfect fit for the program, which matches OMS residents with experienced surgical teams to deliver humanitarian healthcare to underserved communities around the world.
“I witnesssed the fundamental and profound effects of my father’s surgical skill on that young boy,” she said. “Without the developmental abnormality that prevented him from speaking clearly and eating properly, he was able to slowly reintegrate into society, make friends and start attending school.”
Dr. Lee prepped carefully for her Smile Bangladesh assignment, researching the country’s people, culture and medical infrastructure.
“I wanted to be cognizant of the culture in which I would be a guest during my time in Bangladesh,” she said. “It was important to me to be aware of the different perspectives and cultural beliefs regarding cleft patients and healthcare in order to be respectful and effective in delivering surgical care to these patients.”
The experience reaffirmed Dr. Lee’s passion and desire to incorporate humanitarian service into her practice as an OMS.
“Being able to directly impact the lives of these children and help set them on a more positive life trajectory was the most meaningful aspect of this experience,” she said. “When the mothers and fathers saw their children for the first time after their surgery, their positive reactions and facial expressions transcended any language barrier between providers and patients.
“As surgeons, I believe we all have a duty to give back to those who have little or no access to care. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve in Bangladesh through the GIVE program!”
Funding for GIVE is provided by the OMS Foundation donors, the OMS Foundation Alliance and OMSNIC. To learn more and add your support, visit OMSFoundation.org/GIVE.