World of difference
Humanitarian offers health care to the needy, help to the victimized
Dr. Halverson with President and CEO John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, and Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President Joseph E. Kerschner, MD '90, Fel '98.
Having conceded her earlier aspirations of becoming a cowgirl or finding steady work as an astronaut, a young Gloria Halverson wasn’t done dreaming. In eighth grade, she read a book by a naval physician who, after serving in Laos, returned upon discharge to establish a rural clinic.
“I was touched by the great needs in these remote areas and how much impact medicine could have on improving so many aspects of the lives of the people there,” said Gloria Halverson, MD ’73, GME ’77. “I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. No one had ever gone to college before in my family, let alone medical school, so no one took me very seriously.”
“It is critical to try to understand the culture in which you are a guest. An American charging in thinking they have all the answers and disregarding why things are the way they are will not have a positive impact but certainly can have a negative one. However, a nice thing about the practice of medicine is that the world around, people’s anatomy and physiology are the same, and human emotional needs don’t vary.”
If any disbelief remains today, it’s only because of how extraordinary Dr. Halverson’s contributions have been in the lives of her patients in the U.S. and untold numbers of women and children throughout the world in a medical career spanning nearly 40 years. She received the 2013 Humanitarian Award from the Medical College of Wisconsin/Marquette Medical Alumni Association.
“Many others are quietly giving service in areas where they live that may not be as dramatic but are equally as important,” she said. “I don’t consider what I do a special sacrifice on my part. I consider it a blessing. I’m the one who gains the most, and I have to thank the Medical College for allowing me to live my dream.”
If the seed of service was planted in childhood, it was cultivated in medical school. As M3s, she and her husband, Paul Halverson, MD ’73, GME ’76, embarked on their first mission trip. The 10 weeks they spent in Abu Dhabi through a MAP International Medical Fellowship was prelude to a career that has embraced travel, culture and altruism. Through the years, Dr. Halverson’s passion has led her on missions to Guatemala, China, Peru, Nicaragua, Belize, Cambodia, Kenya, Thailand, Rwanda, Ecuador and other nations benefitting from her expertise in women’s health and international medical teaching.
In many respects, Dr. Halverson has led parallel yet relevantly connected lives. In Wisconsin, she became an obstetrician and gynecologist who distinguished herself through her scholarly work as well as through her compassion as a physician both in academic medicine as a Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) faculty member and in private practice.
She found a calling in reproductive medicine, feeling privileged to support women who faced life crises due to infertility. She adopted emerging technologies, including laparoscopic surgery techniques and in vitro fertilization (IVF), which afforded her a number of pioneering experiences: the first baby born in southeastern Wisconsin after IVF, and the first babies born via frozen embryo and intracytoplasmic sperm injection in Wisconsin. Her team also established the third program in the country to use egg freezing to preserve fertility for cancer patients.
All the while, Dr. Halverson juggled her mission work, her practice and her family. Only recently did she retire as Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at MCW to focus exclusively on her global humanitarian efforts. Despite this change, one constant is the value of teaching. This has been clear to Dr. Halverson from the beginning.
An example for women
Dr. Halverson was the first married woman to be admitted to MCW. She encountered no women role models until she reached her residency and trained with OB/GYN Dr. Eleanor Delfs, the first woman to become a full professor at MCW.
“She was the wisest obstetrician I ever knew. Since she was single, I still hadn’t encountered anyone who was trying to be the best doctor they could be as well as be a wife and later, a mother,” said Dr. Halverson, who considers co-raising her two children as her greatest accomplishment. “I found that teaching not only passes on knowledge in the science of medicine, but it can give you the opportunity to model the art of medicine and how to balance this all with a full life.”
Teaching medical students and residents is a gift of service that Dr. Halverson has provided throughout her career. Educating physicians in low-resourced countries has been a focus in her recent work. For example, she led a national task force of the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons to develop a gynecology curriculum for surgical residents in Africa. Her strategy is akin to teaching the proverbial man to fish to achieve a larger and lasting impact.
“If I spent 24 hours a day for the rest of my life personally operating on or treating patients in any of these low-resourced countries, I wouldn’t dent their needs,” she said. “By teaching other doctors, these techniques and ideas can spread and multiply.”
Dr. Halverson currently leads the Continuing Medical & Dental Education Conference for the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), which draws doctors from 40 countries in Asia and 34 in Africa to learn about the latest advances in medicine and dentistry. About 90 medical faculty from the U.S. participate each year.
Bringing hope to victims of slavery
There are an estimated 27 million people in the world subjected to human trafficking, and Dr. Halverson is working diligently to help as many as she can receive appropriate medical care.
Through her role as a Trustee of the CMDA, Dr. Halverson established a partnership with House of Hope in Nicaragua, which provides services to victims of slavery. House of Hope rescues these women and children, gives them a safe place to live, offers counseling, and gives the girls an opportunity to attend school and the women a chance to learn microenterprise skills other than prostitution to earn a livable income.
“I was outraged at the damage done to these women and children,” said Dr. Halverson, who leads medical teams, including medical students and residents, to Nicaragua twice a year through the CMDA’s Global Health Outreach program. “It’s very hard to hear the stories and care for girls as young as 5 who have been rescued and not be changed. I couldn’t just care about them. I felt driven to care for them.”
Dr. Gloria Halverson’s humanitarian work has taken her across the globe many times over. Her recent efforts have focused on the health needs of women and children subjected to human trafficking in places including Nicaragua and the brothels of Mumbai, India (above).
Not only does Dr. Halverson provide critical health services to recovering trafficking victims, such as cancer screenings and life-saving interventions, she brings messages of empowerment, so her patients feel worthy of receiving care.
For people in developing nations, fostering self-worth, enabling appropriate care, and educating physicians results in better generational health. A test like a pap smear, routine for women in the U.S., is nearly unheard of in some third world countries, where most cervical cancer occurs. Yet, Dr. Halverson knows that by giving local doctors the ability to perform education, screening and prevention with very little resources that the benefits to women there are significant.
For volunteers, a broader world view is both rewarding and sobering. For Dr. Halverson, that even has included facing her own mortality. In 1996, she experienced tragedy while providing grief and trauma counseling for genocide survivors in Rwanda and Burundi.
“We were caught in a terrorist ambush in which eight people were killed,” she said. “I can think of no other explanation than God’s grace that we are survivors. This was very traumatic and helped us look at what truly are the important things in life.”
Life of a humanitarian
With Gloria Halverson, MD '73, GME '77
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