Loving What You Do

MUSC Children's Health
February 04, 2019
Dr. Elizabeth Mack and husband standing in front of Mount Everest.
Dr. Mack and her husband take time out from a medical mission trip to Nepal to enjoy the view below Everest.

A Profile About Dr. Elizabeth Mack

Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Marley said, “Love the life you live. Live the life you love,” and if he had ever met Dr. Elizabeth Mack, he would have found someone who is doing exactly that.

Dr. Mack, is a board-certified pediatric critical care physician, who is also division director of pediatric critical care medicine at MUSC Children’s Health and medical director of graduate medical education quality and safety at MUSC.

Her love of medicine and interest in health and healing started when she was young.

“When I was a teenager, I babysat for our neighbors, and two of their three children had cystic fibrosis,” Dr. Mack said. “Those experiences with that incredibly special family led me to be drawn to medicine and, more specifically, pediatrics.

“I’m half Lebanese, and I believe that naturally gives me a global perspective. Additionally, as a trainee, I was exposed to faculty members who taught me how to think globally in terms of medicine.”

Today, her continued love of medicine, which is a fulltime passion, lives in the critical care unit and the classroom but also is forever present in the work she does as a volunteer physician around the globe to advance global health.

Most of the global work she does is in Haiti, but she recently returned in November from Tansen, Nepal, where she volunteered with her husband of two years, who is a pediatric nurse practitioner, in a remote area for the United Mission to Nepal.

She and her husband have friends who are medical missionaries in Tansen, Nepal who work in a rehabilitation hospital in a resource poor area. Once there, they worked alongside their friends as well as other colleagues from South Carolina.

In advance of the trip, they learned about some of the pediatric patients they would see. Once there, they cared for some children in the hospital and visited another at his home. The collaboration has continued, and the teams have worked together to operate a very old ventilator, that included knobs labeled in German. Pediatric ventilators are not common in the area and after the Nepali team had the German translated to English, they worked together to make adjustments.

Dr. Mack marvels at the simple lifestyles of the people she meets and works with in her travels and is quick to realize how much happier many of them are than most Americans.

While the trip to Nepal was personally rewarding, Dr. Mack advocates that the most important strategy when working in the sphere of global health is to develop a longitudinal relationship with a site or group of people.

“Going in, treating patients and leaving, is an ineffective and dangerous model,” she said. “Going in and developing a collaborative relationship with people over a long period of time, you build a program and trust. The locals take care of their own people, and we learn a lot from them. That’s the most sustainable model.”

Dr. Mack says she learned this over time. In the beginning, she went to many places but only stayed a week or two at a time. She discovered this was not the best way for her to make an impact.

Of all her work in caring for the sick and injured not only in South Carolina but other parts of the world, she recalls a trip to Haiti.

“It was at the end of a trip, and I was leaving. As I was giving hugs, I said, ‘I’ll see you later.’

“One of them said, ‘Do you know how many times I have heard that?’

“That was a very pivotal moment for me. That was the time when I stopped doing sort of ‘in and out’ medical volunteerism trips and really made a concerted effort to develop a longitudinal relationship with one team,” she said.

Her longer-term project now resides in Haiti at Bernard Mevs, a Project Medishare site, where she works with a hospital that has a pediatric intensive care unit. Some of the people she has worked with have come to South Carolina to stay with her and to observe pediatric intensive care here.

“They have built a pediatric residency program there, and we are now in the process of building a pediatric critical care fellowship so that they can train their own folks to take care of their people,” she said.

Dr. Mack feels that her global work has taught her a great deal. “We have a lot to learn, and it gives us a very different perspective. Working with patients in low resource settings, you realize that the world is not exactly like where you work. You have an appreciation for what you have and also that there are other settings out there that don’t have what we have. It’s a really important life lesson,” she said.

“I have taken residents and students with me to Haiti and to other places around the world, and I try to give that back…expose people to that perspective. I have mentors that exposed me to the same, and I think that is a really important part of our training and our perspective on life,” she said.

She said there are many things we can learn from global health that we can apply to South Carolina. There are low resource settings in the state and you don’t have to leave the country to experience some of this. She said MUSC Children’s Health treats patients from around the world and that understanding health care and other cultures is important in her daily practice.

“It is not uncommon for us to treat people from other parts of the world and that perspective is really important,” she said.

Dr. Elizabeth Mack was raised in South Carolina and did most of her training at the University of South Carolina (USC). She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in biology from USC Honors College. She graduated cum laude from the USC School of Medicine in 2003. She completed her pediatric critical care fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. In Cincinnati, she also earned her masters of science with a focus in biostatistics, epidemiology, and informatics. She is active in leadership roles with the American Academy of Pediatrics and Society of Critical Care Medicine.

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