Physician at Work: Mixing compassion and care with charity
Deborah Proctor has traveled a dozen times to Honduras to help kids
When gastroenterologist Deborah Proctor, MD, decided to sponsor a child in Honduras 20 years ago, she had no idea doing so would ignite a passion that would have a profound effect on her life.
Dr. Proctor, the medical director of the Yale Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, and her husband, have since sponsored more than 40 children. In 2005, she traveled to Honduras for the first time with CURE International, which specializes in short-term medical and dental missionary trips. She was nervous about treating patients with diseases outside her specialty, but found the work so rewarding that she made 11 more trips in the next five years—six with CURE and five on her own.
Helping those with limited access
“I have evaluated patients who are the poorest of the poor; however they are willing to wait for hours in the hot sun and are very grateful for any help that they receive,” she said. “All that needs to be done is to actually evaluate and manage patients and their diseases. I can sit for awhile and hold a person’s hand to comfort them and not worry about paperwork. It’s refreshing, and my Honduran patients remind me why I chose medicine in the first place so many years ago.”
On the trips with CURE, Dr. Proctor sees patients of all ages, providing care that has ranged from distributing vitamins to treating serious infections. On her own trips with her son Charlie, now 17, she volunteers at an orphanage and sometimes works with an internist who has become a close friend.
During a recent trip, she performed 40 endoscopies in four days at a cancer clinic, and diagnosed a number of gastric cancers and a neck cancer, along with other conditions. She sometimes makes “house calls” to patients who live in rural areas. “The government clinic is often a long walk or bus ride away, so they would have to take the day off to visit the clinic, and if they don’t work, they don’t get paid,” she said.
Working toward better treatments at Yale
As a gastroenterologist for Yale Medical Group, Dr. Proctor sees patients with a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, most notably inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In addition, she is part of a research group that has been involved in identifying genes with the hope of determining which ones predispose people to more severe cases of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
She has performed about 30,000 colonoscopies and other procedures in the course treating patients in New Haven. “It’s like playing with video games all day,” she said. “I still get excited when I get to the cecum (the beginning of the large intestine).”
Summer plans in Honduras
This summer, she will spend an extended period in Honduras with her son, who started the Honduras Children’s Project, a nonprofit organization that raises money to provide a teacher and other staff for the orphanage where he and his mother volunteer. “I just love being around everyone there,” Dr. Proctor said. “When you hang out with people who are better than you, you become a better person.”
Name: Deborah Proctor, MD
Title: Professor of Medicine (Digestive Diseases); Medical Director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program
Area of expertise: Gastroenterology; inflammatory bowel disease
Place of birth: Cleveland, Ohio
College: University of Toledo
Med School: University of Cincinnati
Training: Residency in internal medicine and fellowship in gastroenterology at Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Family: Husband, Robert Proctor; Sons, Charlie, 17; Davey, 14
What is most challenging to you in academic medicine? All of us are overcommitted but it’s a good thing because patients want to see us.
What is most rewarding? Working with a lot of very smart people—both colleagues and fellows—who inspire and energize me.
What do you like most about your practice? I enjoy being able to see a specialized group of patients in addition to a wide range of GI diseases. In addition to my practice at Temple Medical Center, I enjoy my work at the Yale Health Plan and the Hill Health Center, a community health center in New Haven, where I get to see patients who would not normally have routine access to GI care.
Personal interests or pastimes? Going to Honduras.
Last book read: “The First Secret of Edwin Hoff,” by Annie Bourne, the daughter of Yale Medical Group gastroenterologist James Boyer, MD.