Compared to Miriam Aschkenasy, TV’s doctors have it easy. At least their life-and-death treatment decisions are made in the comparative comfort of a high-tech hospital.
Aschkenasy, on the other hand, has taught Ethiopian physicians, nurses, and community members without formal medical training how to perform lifesaving procedures. And she’s done so in towns without equipment and under conditions that American doctors tend to take for granted.
Aschkenasy is a public-health specialist with Oxfam who also works emergency-room shifts at Cambridge Hospital in Boston. Since 2006, she has headed Oxfam’s public health initiative through six regional offices. One is in Zimbabwe, where Oxfam is tackling the cholera epidemic by mapping faulty drinking-water sources with GPS and working with local partners to repair them. She also oversees programs in public health and hygiene education, and attempts to treat or prevent debilitating diseases such as diarrhea and malaria.
She trained as an international emergency-medicine physician—still a largely male field—because she “wanted to make a big difference in a community.” But during a residency in Nepal, Aschkenasy realized that public health is the “only way to help those who can’t reach the [healthcare] system on their own.” So she earned a master’s in public health at Harvard and has been helping people around the world since.
“Direct critical care is great, but it’s like spitting in the ocean,” Aschkenasy says. “When you do international public health, it’s still an ocean, but you’re throwing a whole bucket in there.”