May 22, 2014

Georgetown Physician Spearheads Healthcare Volunteering Initiative in Cameroon

Dr. Marilee Cole, a professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and an expert in tropical healthcare, is dedicated to improving healthcare in Cameroon.

In 2000, she began traveling to Cameroon at her own expense, working for two months each year to provide medical treatment to patients suffering from HIV/AIDS and support to her overburdened Cameroonian physician colleagues.

What started as an individual effort for Cole has since evolved into an annual volunteer program for her internal medicine residents at Georgetown.

Tropical Medicine Elective

Each summer, some of Cole's students participate in a six-week elective at the Banso Baptist Hospital (BBH) in the Northwest Province of Cameroon. BBH is made up of five major patient wards, totaling approximately 200 beds.

The hospital, along with its affiliated health center and public health projects, offers medical students a firsthand look at the challenges of tropical medicine and infectious disease in a developing country.

Georgetown residents are familiar with most common diseases at BBH thanks to rigorous training prior to the trip.

“We work extremely long hours to prepare for the trip, so we’re always ‘ready for battle,’” Cole notes.

Personal Commitment

Cole has been passionate about volunteering in Africa since she was an undergraduate at Bucknell University. She spent a summer in Chad building a schoolhouse and then returned to campus motivated to design a self-study course on Africa.

Cole went on to become an expert in the areas of tropical medicine, international health, and managing HIV/AIDS in the developing world, and she received Bucknell's “Service to Humanity” Alumni Association award in 2008.

She earned her M.D. from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1972 and a Diploma in Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (DHTM) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2002.

Physician, Professor, and Advocate

When she is not volunteering in Cameroon, Cole works full-time as an internist at Georgetown University Hospital and teaches at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. In addition, she provides year-round e-consultations on tropical medicine, HIV/AIDS, and international health topics for her physician colleagues at the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB). She wrote and helps to implement and assess the initial HIV/AIDS protocol for the CBCHB, which reaches an estimated 1 million people in Cameroon.

Cole is committed to the empowerment of women in the healthcare field. A former president of Georgetown Women in Medicine, she was responsible for starting a Women's Mentorship program, as well as for advocating for equal pay and equal representation for women. She has received repeated recognition for her work and has been invited to give lectures around the world on gender issues, tropical medicine, and public health.