As a doctor here at Granite Peaks Gastroenterology, I reflect on Humanitarianism: the promotion of human welfare; making other people’s lives better, regardless of their gender, race or religion. Dr. Michael VanRooyen personifies humanitarianism. For him, providing for the health and welfare of the world’s oppressed and suffering is not a political issue, it is an international imperative. In his captivating new book, The World’s Emergency Room: The Growing Threat to Doctors, Nurses, and Humanitarian Workers, Dr. VanRooyen takes readers on his journeys from the Rwandan genocide to earthquake-ravaged Haiti to the Syrian refugee crisis. As an emergency physician and leader in the relatively new field of humanitarian medicine, Dr. VanRooyen has helped thousands of people worldwide who have been displaced by war, natural disasters, and disease. His riveting personal account of these public health emergencies, and the humanitarians who put themselves in harm’s way to help, provides a fresh, new perspective on global health crises and the challenges faced by aid workers and non-governmental organizations.
The breadth of Dr. VanRooyen’s credentials is impressive. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, the chairman of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the co-founder and director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Full disclosure: he was my roommate during our medical residencies in Chicago and a groomsman in my wedding, and he remains one of my closest friends.
Long before my days at Granite Peaks Gastroenterology, I first met Mike during medical school, and even then his altruism was evident. After the fourth year of medical school, many students take time off before commencing the grueling schedule of residency. But not Mike. He used the time to work with the Indian Red Cross in Delhi, help priests in war-torn El Salvador, and travel to Geneva to learn the intricacies of the international relief agencies located there. Over the past 25 years, Mike and his wife Julie, a prominent gynecologic surgeon herself, have provided care in over 30 countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Bosnia, Chad, Sudan, and Iraq. Mike also travelled to NYC to offer his assistance in the aftermath of 9/11. The atrocities that Mike has witnessed are incomprehensible to the average American. In The World’s Emergency Room, Dr. VanRooyen takes us into these disaster zones with a gripping narrative, and proposes solutions on how to better serve people and populations in need, while safeguarding the lives of aid workers and humanitarians faced with increasing threats while working in the field.
The World’s Emergency Room is a truly inspirational book. The humanitarian work being carried out by Dr. VanRooyen and his colleagues brings to mind the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
To learn more about the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, please visit hhi.harvard.edu.