Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2008 | People

Healing the World, One Patient at a Time

By Jen Knights
UI students and supporters share their expertise and generosity to make the world a better place.

This summer, a young woman in Cartagena, Colombia, delivered a healthy baby girl with the help of a medical student from Iowa.

In the small west African country of Mali, hundreds of villagers learned simple methods to help prevent malaria—a deadly disease that affects close to a third of their population—and their teachers are now back on the UI campus, studying medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Ben Bryden and Nick Tomsen, now second-year UI medical students, spent the summer of 2008 on different continents doing vastly different work. While Bryden (and his wife, Mariel, 08BA, who is also a UI medical student) distributed insecticide-treated mosquito nets and led public education efforts to help prevent malaria in Mali, Tomsen was delivering basic medical care—and babies—in impoverished communities in Colombia.

Their efforts were helped along by the family and friends of another medical student, one who would have recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of his graduation from medical school.

Barry Freeman was a student in the UI Carver College of Medicine in 1972 when a tragic accident on campus ended his promising young life. His parents, Bob and Marion Freeman of Loveland, Colorado, seeking a meaningful way to keep Barry's memory alive, established the Barry Freeman Memorial Fund to provide scholarships for UI medical students serving in underserved communities around the world.

"We wanted to give today's UI medical students a chance to do what Barry might have done, had he lived," Bob, 50BSPE, explains.

In the Carver College of Medicine Global Programs elective, selected students travel to medically underserved communities—almost anywhere in the world—where they can apply their growing medical expertise to help those with limited healthcare resources. The Freeman Fund provides financial assistance with travel and program costs to deserving students who might not otherwise be able to participate in this type of cross-cultural service opportunity.

Through the years, the Freeman Fund has benefited more than 250 UI medical students like Bryden and Tomsen, enabling them to experience the challenges—and rewards—of providing care in cultures where resources are scarce.

"I am extremely grateful to the Freemans for helping me to have a learning experience that will profoundly affect my life and future," says Tomsen, whose summer in Colombia culminated with the opportunity to deliver a baby for a young woman in a maternity clinic—the first for both of them. "Last summer was one of the greatest learning and growth experiences of my life—and it reinvigorated my passion for serving people in the future."

Freeman award recipients gain access to hands-on medical experience, broaden their cultural perspectives, develop empathy and confidence as healthcare providers, and enjoy the satisfaction of helping people in difficult situations and dire need.

"Learning to serve is an important part of our medical education," Bryden points out, "because being a doctor is all about service to others." And, as he reported in his post-trip summary, "Even when you face difficulties, all you have to do is look at the faces of the people you are working for, and you will continue your work."

That's exactly what Bob and Marion Freeman had in mind when they created the Freeman Fund. Their dream was to make a positive difference in the world, improving the lives of people across the globe by supporting medical students in their efforts to do the same. Every time the Freeman Fund helps a medical student, it helps dozens—if not hundreds—of people in need.

Bob says, "It's a win-win-win-win situation. Giving makes us feel good because we know that we're helping students learn, giving people access to the health care they desperately need, helping the UI recruit top medical students, and improving the future of health care—globally and here at home."

In addition to Bryden and Tomsen's efforts in Colombia and Mali, Freeman scholars have worked in countries as diverse as Tanzania, Mexico, Ghana, Peru, and India, on issues ranging from women's health and reproduction to nutrition, public sanitation, and HIV/AIDS.

Like other medical students on service trips abroad, Nick Tomsen, seen here in Colombia, found inspiration among the impoverished people he helped.

More than providing financial support for medical students' scholarly travels, the Freeman Fund has an inspiring and imperative effect on the aspiring doctors who benefit from it.

"It means a lot to me," says Bryden, who expects to pursue a career in international public health. "Because I received generous support from the Freeman Fund, I feel a greater responsibility to do something meaningful with my career, to continue serving others."

Tomsen agrees. "I am so lucky to be pursuing a profession that lends itself so perfectly to service—and, thanks to the assistance I've received, I fully expect to make the most of it, throughout my career."

When Bob and Marion Freeman first created the Freeman Fund more than 35 years ago, they believed that "through global exchange, the world can be healed . . . one patient at a time."

Thanks to support from the Freemans and other generous contributors to the Freeman Fund, UI medical students can dispatch themselves across continents, into remote villages and overburdened clinics—far from the UI campus—applying that "one patient at a time" approach in any place where people need their help.

One by one, UI medical students continue working to make that dream a reality . . . and the world is feeling a little better with each trip they make.