Jeannette van Os completed the ‘old’ MD Global Health program in the Netherlands and has been working and living in Malawi since 2005. We asked her about her life and especially how it is to raise a family so far away from home.
“I don’t really remember anymore when I made the decision to become an MD Global Health. I think the idea originated in reading books written by doctors that worked for Memisa and Doctors without Borders. My first experience with global health and tropical medicine was a research project I did as a medical intern in Suriname, where I studied preventative measures for parasitic gut infections in children. Subsequently I conducted internships in Zambia and Zimbabwe, which confirmed my choice of wanting to specialize in international health and tropical medicine.”
Coming from Zimbabwe, Jeannette met her current employer, who was then planning to set up a clinic in Malawi. The clinic was to be a memorial for her son, who died in the lakeside town of Cape Maclear, next to Lake Malawi. After specializing in global health and initially working in Zambia for a while, Jeannette started working in the newly founded @Billy Riordian Memorial Clinic in Cape Maclear.
“My work in the clinic includes seeing patients as a general practitioner. We also have a small ward for short-term admissions. Surgical and obstetric patients are referred to the community hospital in Monkey Bay, 25km from our clinic. The main focus of my work are the consultations I do in our HIV-clinic, where we treat HIV-patients with anti-retrovirals and provide long term follow-up. Additionally, I supervise the other doctors and nurses who do voluntary work in the clinic, and residents from the Irish General Practitioner program who can choose to do an internship in our clinic as part of their residency.”
In Cape Maclear Jeannette met her husband, who ran a lodge in Cape Maclear. Eleven years later, they have two daughters, one of six and one of nearly ten years old. “They’ve both been born in the Netherlands, but were raised in Malawi. In their early years they studied at the local school. Currently they’re being home-schooled by Dutch teachers who stay with us for at least half a year at a time. They teach our children in the morning according to the Dutch educational system, and work for local charity projects in the afternoon.”
“Our children are being raised in a very diverse manner. In the morning they’re taught in Dutch, and in the afternoon in Chichewa (the local language) by a local nanny, together with their Malawian friends. Local kids play around our house often, and our eldest daughter’s best friend regularly has dinner at our house. During those dinners, me and my husband speak English, the children speak Chichewa and I speak with my children and their friends in Dutch. As a result, the best friend of our daughter actually speaks Dutch pretty well, and our children have learnt three languages!”
“Our future plans aren’t set yet, but we are thinking about moving out of Malawi once our children reach the age where they’d need to go to secondary school. We want to give them the same possibilities that we had, but our income doesn’t allow us to send our children to an international school in Malawi. We’re planning not to return to Europe. I wish to continue working in global health. Therefore we are thinking about moving to an area like rural Australia, where education is good but due to the isolated and challenging location, clinical work as a doctor can resemble working in minimal resource settings like Malawi every now and then.”