Emilie Calvello is a specialist in emergency medicine and public health. She has trained at academic centers in the US and cross trained in austere emergency care through the International Committee of the Red Cross, Harvard University and the World Health Organization.
Her professional interest is in developing emergency care capacity in post-conflict/disaster countries via health system strengthening and education of healthcare personnel using available resources to provide best practice medical care. Among her recent field experience, she served as director of emergency triage for International Medical Corps immediately after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, senior technical advisor to Catholic Relief Services during the Haiti cholera epidemic, senior faculty at JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, Liberia from 2009 to 2013. She is a consultant to the US State Department for their Senior Crisis Management courses and Hospital Based Management of Mass Casualty Incident courses held throughout the world.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in Global EM?
There have been times in countries where there is initial resistance by local male leadership because of my gender. Friendliness, direct communication and competence usually quickly diffuse this issue. Many times I have faced the biased assumption – by both sexes – that I must be neglecting my family by pursuing global emergency priorities.
Safety. The reality of our world is that men can still travel more freely than women. Traveling alone for me to some locations requires additional layers of thought process and security than it does for my husband.
How has a career in Global Emergency Medicine (GEM) impacted your decisions regarding marriage and children—i.e. whether or not to do it and when?
I had children while in medical school. This was a purposeful decision, as I wanted them to be older when I was ready to travel more with my chosen profession. That has allowed my boys to be more integrated into my global emergency medicine travel when possible. My husband is an incredibly supportive partner. He also works in GEM, which makes the schedule challenging at times, but ultimately, it is one huge adventure!
What is your focus within global emergency medicine?
I passionately believe that emergency care is part of the right to health. The current global health agenda grossly neglects emergency care in advocacy, policy and funding. I am committed to figuring out durable solutions to provide the best practice emergency care in resource-limited settings. Practically, this translates into discovering barriers to access as well as providing tools, curriculum and training for EM practitioners that are contextually appropriate. The last few years I have worked closely with my colleagues in the African Federation of Emergency Medicine. We are committed to finding new ways to advocate for early integration of emergency care into emerging health systems.
What percentage of time do you spending abroad?
Currently 100%. Prior to this, I spent 15-30% of my time abroad.
What draws you to GEM as a career choice?
There is no field that is clearer in its humanitarian imperative than emergency medicine – relieve suffering and provide life saving interventions at the most vulnerable time in a patient’s life. GEM requires multi-disciplinary skills that make this career path challenging and rewarding: language acquisition, resource limited clinical practice, cross-cultural management, crisis response etc. In this field, you are constantly learning and growing as a person and a professional.
What advice do you have for women who are pursuing (or interested in pursuing) a career in GEM?
- Find your focus – EM naturally draws folks who are multi-talented and interested in everything. Early on, decide on what your focus will be and how it will fit with your lifestyle choices.
- Hone your skills – Once you get focused, cultivate your skills associated with that discipline. Do post-graduate short courses. Seek credible ground experience. Find those who do this well and get their advice.
- Find your support – This is often easier said than done in GEM. The shear breadth of GEM makes this difficult at times. Your focus might be entirely different than those at your institution. Talk with anyone interested even if their region or field of focus is different than yours. Be open to novel ideas, partnerships outside EM and integrate disciplines outside medicine to identify new solutions. Make sure that your boss (Department Chair, Medical Director etc.) is supportive of your work before accepting any position.
- Be patient – Great skills in GEM take time and experience to cultivate. This does not have to come all at once! Commit to the process, do the work but take the time you need to have a life outside of the specialty.
- Maintain your relationships – The world is a small place, and it is even smaller in GEM. Never burn a relational bridge even when tensions are high in the field. I promise you, you will see that person again. This principle applies to your personal relationships as well. Nothing leads to burnout faster than allowing your personal relationships to falter. Foster your friendships; they will support you at the most difficult moments.
A version of this article was originally published in the AAWEP Newsletter.