Connections that Transcend Language, Improve Outcomes

Connections that Transcend Language, Improve Outcomes
December 13, 2018 Callie Daniels-Howell

Timmy’s medical brigades most often include U.S.-based volunteers who serve in another country, which makes for an incredible cultural and learning experience. But there was something unique about the brigade that I volunteered with in Ecuador. It was amazingly global.


Our brigade included volunteers with Lilly’s Connecting Hearts Abroad program, myself included. Together, we represented the United States, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Australia, Malaysia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Ireland and Canada. The cross-cultural learning was huge! We didn’t speak the same native language. And some of us didn’t speak enough Spanish to talk directly with patients in Ecuador. But we learned that some things transcend language. Things like humanity and the healing power of touch. Smiles and laughter. These are universally understood and appreciated.

Two of my colleagues—Dr. Marcela Vaz from Brazil and Dr. Farida Lamkanfi from Brussels—exemplified this ability to connect with people, even without a shared language. The kindness, attention and time that our volunteer physicians gave to every patient taught me a lifelong lesson. Sometimes, we underestimate the power of truly connecting with another person. But these connections can improve outcomes—for patients and for ourselves. Moved by their example, I invited Marcela and Farida to talk about the lessons they learned as physicians and Timmy volunteers.


Marcela Vaz:  In Brazil, I see adult patients with endocrinology issues. So I was a little stressed when I learned that we would be seeing patients of all ages, most with primary care conditions. I spent my first night in Ecuador studying! To my relief, I remembered all that I needed to be a good doctor. Most important, I found that I was able to give patients what they craved most: genuine care and compassion.


Farida Lamkanfi: I have seen many patients in Belgium, where the healthcare system is well established and patients have access to medical treatments. As a physician, it was challenging to see patients in Ecuador and not be able to provide the best care because of logistics, finances or other reasons. But I learned that giving your time to patients, sharing information on how to treat or prevent some diseases, or putting your hand on their shoulder is sometimes more meaningful than a prescription.


Marcela: Patients are patients everywhere, because people are people everywhere. We essentially are the same. We need attention. We want to feel good. We want to feel connected with others. Even if we speak different languages, we can communicate with our eyes, our hands, our arms, our smiles. It was an extraordinary experience. I received much more than I gave.


Farida: Through this experience, I improved my ability to work in different environments and to be flexible when challenges arise. We can achieve much more when we work as a team! And I appreciate even more how important it is to put patients first. These trips go well beyond volunteering. They change you as a human being and bring out the best in you.



by Molly McCully


Molly McCully is director of public affairs at Eli Lilly and Company. In July 2018, Molly volunteered with Timmy Global Health in Ecuador through Lilly’s Connecting Hearts Abroad global employee volunteer program. Through Connecting Hearts Abroad, Lilly sends employees from its operations worldwide to serve as health volunteers and caregivers in communities with need across the world. This is the first year that Lilly and Timmy have joined forces to offer a Connecting Hearts Abroad service trip in Ecuador for Lilly volunteers.