Doctor takes medical care back to the basics

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Deciding to use his skills as a doctor on the international mission field was not a difficult choice for Dr. David Stevens. As a high school student he felt the call to medical missions, and went on to spend 11 years providing health care to those in Africa who needed it most.
   While in Kenya, Stevens was one of three doctors caring for over 300,000 nationals at Tenwick hospital, which operated at 180 percent occupancy. During his three terms at Tenwick, the doctor was responsible for starting a large community based program that teaches basic life, as well as health care skills.
   "I got very involved obviously in the medical work, but began to realize very quickly that my medical skills were just a small part of what was needed," Stevens said.
   After his years in Kenya, Stevens became actively involved in crisis medical intervention across Africa. He worked with refugees, and treated diseases of epidemic proportion in hostile locations. The doctor recalls treating 45,000 patients in Mogadishu after the uprising made infamous in the recent Hollywood film, Black Hawk Down.
   Stevens often did not know where he would be working next during the period of time he did crisis intervention work with World Medical Missions, the medical arm of Samaritan's Purse. The husband and father of three left his family in the United States while he traveled to remote locations in Africa.
   "I would get on a plane and say, honey I will see you, but I don't know when. I don't know where I am going to be and there is no way to get a hold of me," Stevens said.
   Today, Stevens' commitment to medical missions has carried him far from Tenwick hospital in Kenya to East Tennessee, where he works as the executive director of the Christian Medical & Dental Society. Since Stevens took the helm at the ministry in 1994 it has doubled in size and in world impact, but he admits the executive role is one he would not have chosen himself.
   "I always thought that it was something I would never do," Stevens said. "I thought I would always be involved in missions, but for a period of time God just really impressed on me that this is where I could have the most influence and impact the most people."
   CMDA impacts people locally and throughout the world with more than 50 different outreach programs all run out of his headquarters in Bristol, Tenn. It is the organization's mission to bring more than just medicinal cures to health care.
   "We are trying to create the type of doctors everybody wants. It is not enough that people know the science," Stevens said.
   Stevens said the organization strives to teach doctors how to address spiritual issues in their practices. It also has a medical and dental school campus out reach program, and publishes medical materials that equip doctors worldwide with the information they need.
   Teaching doctors the art of service is another function of CMDA. Doctors are offered the opportunity to participate in programs that allow them to taste international medical missions, which Stevens believes makes them better health care providers.
   "The best way to radically change a doctor's life is to get them out of their power zone. You have higher prestige and influence where you work, but if you take a person to a prison in Peru to work with guerrillas for a week or two they get close to God really quick," Stevens said. "They reorganize their priorities when they get back and they become better doctors."
   CMDA is also active in public policy. This is the area of the ministry in which Stevens has gained international notoriety. An expert on bioethics, Stevens has spoken at press conferences, and has been interviewed by the international media.
   He said that the organization, which has been in existence for 71 years, has always taken political and ethical stances on issues, but only recently has public policy come to the forefront of the ministry.
   "We have had ethical stances for years where we say this is where we stand on this issue but we really were not doing anything with them," Stevens said. "Since 1994 we have really tried to be a voice for our members to the media, to the government, to give testimony before Congress, before the courts, and issue public service announcements."
   In October, CMDA moved from its location at Kings Pharmaceuticals to a new facility at 501 5th St., Bristol. The state-of-the-art building was built with cutting edge technology and is twice the size the organization currently needs. However, Stevens plans on growing into the new headquarters in the next few years. He said it is the ministry's goal to double in size again in the near future.