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A global mindset: Healing the underserved at home and abroad

Dr. Jeanne Cabeza working locums and traveling

“I always had this interest in working with underserved communities,” says Dr. Jeanne Cabeza, a hospitalist based out of New Mexico. She didn’t initially plan to become a physician. In fact, her undergraduate education included Middle Eastern studies, and she planned to go into foreign service or become a vector biologist.

“I was really interested in tropical medicine and global health. I was always a big traveler, and I wanted to do medicine in different areas,” she recalls. “Medicine is very changeable in terms of being able to help people directly, so that was a big attraction.”

Serving the underserved abroad

For years, Dr. Cabeza has collaborated with researchers from UCLA and Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, studying sexually transmitted diseases. She has worked since 2004 with Doctors Without Borders, mostly in infectious disease treatment programs for tuberculosis, HIV (in Thailand and Uganda), and visceral Leishmaniasis (a tropical disease spread by sandflies) in South Sudan.

In Haiti, Dr. Cabeza also served as Médecins Sans Frontières-France’s medical coordinator and later as the hospital director of MSF-France’s burn hospital, Hôpital Drouillard, in Port-au-Prince.

Locum tenens and global health

Since frequent travel requires a flexible schedule, Dr. Cabeza took her first locum tenens assignment in 1997 and never looked back. She says locum tenens and global health go hand-in-hand.

“I don’t really think global health work would be possible and easy unless I was doing locums, because it gives me flexibility to work when I need to. I can set up my schedule and go on medical missions when I can,” she says.

Dr. Jeanne Cabeza

A relationships business

Dr. Cabeza relies on agencies to help her find locum tenens jobs she loves and has spent most of her career with CompHealth.

“I find them impeccable to work with, very well-organized. They’re really good, and I love Sarah, my recruiter,” she says. “You definitely get attached to the people that you’re working with.”

At the beginning, Dr. Cabeza says she wanted to work anywhere in locum tenens. Today, she has existing relationships with hospitals and regularly returns to the same facilities.

“If you do a good job, they want you to come back. I’ve worked in Santa Fe since 2007, and I’ve worked with Peace Health, and a bunch of hospitals in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington since 2005,” Dr. Cabeza says. “I’ve had friends as long as I’ve been in those places, so there’s a certain continuity. When you go back to the hospital, you know everything, you know everyone, you know who to contact.”

Serving the underserved at home

Locum tenens also gives Dr. Cabeza the chance to help underserved communities when she’s not out of the country.

“I’ve worked with the Navajo Nations and with a critical-access hospital in Ketchikan, Alaska. I’ve worked in California’s central valley and for years in Salinas with farm workers,” she says. “I still know and talk to the friends I made when I was there from 2000-2007. I’ve found the places I wanted to go and do that type of medicine, and I’ve had these really interesting positions because of locums. You can work in underserved areas if you’re interested in them.”

Ready for the next adventure

Dr. Cabeza also enjoys locum tenens because it keeps work from becoming overwhelming.

“I always feel happy to do my work, and I don’t feel burned out. I think that’s a big problem for physicians, too. If I’m ever like, ‘I need a break,’ I arrange my schedule,” she says. “There’s something about that that’s so appealing. When you finish something, you’re ready for the next adventure. It’s like getting off and going for summer vacation.”

While Dr. Cabeza wasn’t able to travel as much in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, she’s optimistic that she can return to Haiti and Peru in 2021 to continue her work in global health.

“I like this life. It’s kind of a dream for me, and I’m so grateful. I don’t think I would have been able to do this without locum tenens,” Dr. Cabeza says. “The degree of freedom to do what you want is very nice.” 

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