Stefan Kertesz, 1992 Lambaréné Schweitzer Fellow
Stefan served as a junior doctor at the Schweitzer Hospital in Gabon and is an active member of the ASF Board of Directors, serving as co-chair of the U.S. Programs Committee.
“People have a reservoir of idealism, a reservoir of need for connection, and at each turn the question is how do you keep individuals sustained in their work.”
Stefan Kertesz’s idealism and need for connection led him to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship’s ® West Africa Program in 1992. Since that time, Stefan has dedicated his life to finding solutions that will allow for effective and appropriate public service, while fueling and sustaining one’s personal ideals.
Stefan first applied to the Fellowship’s West Africa program in 1992. In a letter to Lachlan Forrow that accompanied his application, he articulated that “the struggle to make my medical skills useful in Lambaréné may help me rethink the meaning of my identity as a doctor-to-be.” These words proved prophetic, as the Fellowship has indeed helped shape Stefan’s identity as a physician and as a human being.
Stefan’s idealistic vision of healing the sick in Africa came up against the reality he faced in his first weeks as a young doctor in Lambaréné. Faced with a lack of autonomy and an abundance of conflict with the other physicians, Stefan “felt crushed and cheated by the Fellowship,” and expressed as much in a letter to Dr. Forrow.
In the time it took for the letter to arrive in Boston, Stefan had discovered that most of the conflict stemmed from a basic lack of understanding between the Gabonese patients and the doctors who were supposed to be helping them.
“I noticed that many of the situations that frustrated my European supervisors involved elements of conflict [triggered by the doctors’ and the patients’ divergent cultural assumptions]. I was beginning to take pleasure in these realities…I found myself more and more committed to staying, and profoundly affected by the experience. Ultimately it affected all of my major career decisions.”
Four years later, having found a way to “ply my trade across the boundary of culture,” Stefan took a position working with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. “I chose to work with the homeless because I found certain clinical similarities between my medical student experience at the Schweitzer Hospital in Gabon and a one-month rotation I pursued with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program during my residency. In both situations, the most meaningful and enjoyable challenge is the one that clinicians tend to overlook: making the care relevant to the context of the patient’s life.” Stefan was the fourth physician with ties to the Fellowship to end up working with Boston’s homeless population.
In caring for the homeless, Stefan found himself working through many of the same obstacles Dr. Schweitzer encountered during his life of service. “Again the care of patients was itself a fascinating and meaningful process,” however, implicit in that process, are logistical problems – finances, organizational politics – and with Dr. Schweitzer’s determination to “keep the instinct for service alive… we pushed through.”
Today, Stefan continues to work with homeless patients in Birmingham, Alabama. He is working to improve homeless patient care by conducting research on health and addictions services utilized by the homeless population. Stefan continues to serve the Fellowship through his work on the Board of Directors and considers his particular role within the ASF to “spur the development of future Leaders in Service through continuing growth of the Fellows for Life programs.”
When asked why he maintains this involvement, particularly with mentoring of incoming fellows, Stefan said he wanted them to “find their own Lambaréné” just as he once did, at the intersection between culture, medicine, and service.
Further, he maintains, “Caring is not just an act; it is a capacity buried in everyone. What the example of Schweitzer can do is help us locate it, open the door for it, widen that door, and make it grow.”