Serving Kenya’s underserved
For Thomas Ebner, MD, retirement brings mutually rewarding experience for patients, physician
Dr. Noreika: How long are you usually there?
Dr. Ebner: I usually go for 4 weeks, but I have stayed as long as 6 weeks. They appreciate volunteers who can come for at least 2 weeks. Some people volunteer much longer, 3 to 6 months.
Dr. Noreika: What is that part of Kenya like?
Dr. Ebner: It’s in the Kenyan Highlands, which is at about 6,000 to 7,000 feet elevation. It’s right on the equator, so the weather is the same year-round. They get quite a bit of rain so it’s a very fertile area with many small farms.
Kenya itself is a very big country. It has about 45 million people. Most live in the area where the hospital is, and in Nairobi, the capital city of about 4 million people.
The people in the Highlands are amazing. They are hard workers. They have small farms, probably three to five acres, on which they mostly grow tea and corn. They have some small animals—goats or cows for their consumption and chickens for eggs.
They do not make a lot of money. They do not have insurance. They are pretty much on their own in that respect.
Dr. Noreika: Do you need a work visa to serve as a physician in Kenya?
Dr. Ebner: You have to get a Kenyan license, which is basically a formality if you have an American license. You do have to get a visa and they have started tacking on a fee of about $100 when you leave.
Dr. Noreika: Do you travel on your own dime?
Dr. Ebner: Yes. The hospital does not have any money to provide transportation.
They have a wonderful living facility, but it’s about $20 a day for room and board.
Even the missionary doctors, who are full-time volunteers, arrange for their own finances.
The hospital’s overhead is primarily administrative and nursing. They have to be somewhat competitive with the government hospitals to keep these employees.