How Doctor To Doctor Started
In 1989, Dr. Robert Ritch, an ophthalmologist in New York, invited Dr. Bob Dolgoff, a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California, to join him as part of a group of health professionals who would travel to Laos in 1990. The United Nations Ambassador from Laos, Saly Khansy, a friend of Dr. Ritch, had the idea of promoting interchange between professionals in the two countries and he invited Dr. Ritch to put together a delegation of doctors. A roster of 12 participants shrunk steadily and by the time the trip occurred, in August 1990, only four people went—Doctors Ritch and Dolgoff, a Japanese dentist, and a Thai journalist.
It was a little frightening, but the trip went well with only a few inconveniences and only a few moments of anxiety. Dr. Ritch did eye surgery in Vientiane. Dr. Dolgoff spent several days with Dr. Sisouk Vongphrachanh, the Chief of Psychiatry at Mahosot Hospital in Vietniane. Dr. Dolgoff found meager supplies and virtually no educational material. The hospital had a 1975 textbook of psychiatry written in French and a small assortment of journals some of which had dubious utility. The Department of Psychiatry pharmacy had a few hundred doses of the following medications: haloperidol, mellaril, amitryptyline, and diazepam. That was all. Nonetheless the patients on the 12 bed inpatient service were treated with care and devotion and many got well.
Dr. Sisouk and his colleagues were eager to learn and were very glad to meet their colleague from the West. The days went quickly. Doctors Dolgoff and Sisouk, along with a few other staff members, ate lunch and dinner together daily and did some touring around Vientiane. Vientiane is a quiet city on the Mekong with charming sites and friendly, curious people who were eager to communicate with Americans.
After some days in Vientiane, Dolgoff and Ritch flew north an hour to Luang Prabang, the former Lao capital, a small city perched above two rivers in a valley surrounded by high green mountains. They discovered that found they and four European tourists they met at the only hotel in town, were the only Westerners there. They returned to Vietiane, met again with the Lao doctors, and left for home. Dolgoff started thinking about his next trip to Laos on the way home.
There followed two more trips to Laos. On those trips Dolgoff brought with him suitcases full of books and medications for Mahosot Hospital. Before long, he had met all five psychiatrists in the country. He saw patients and did some formal and informal teaching. Of course there was a little time for touring as well as visits to the hospitals and he visited places like Pakse (where there is a Lao psychiatrist) and the Plain of Jars (where there is not).
By this time colleagues in California had heard the stories about Southeast Asia and had seen a few photos and wanted to go as well. A few other doctors traveled to Laos. Dolgoff?s friend Ken Gray, a UNICEF water engineer who has spent over half his life in underdeveloped countries suggested that Dolgoff could start an NGO. In 1994 Dolgoff founded Doctor to Doctor, A Nonprofit Organization.
By now (2008) many American doctors have traveled abroad. Doctor to Doctor volunteers have traveled to Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines, Ukraine, Cuba, Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, and China.