Local doctor, wife to complete mission trip

Submitted photos

Dr. Thomas Howard is pictured with his wife Cheri’ (above) are pictured in Cambodia. Below, Dr. Howard is pictured with Cambodian physicians on staff at Mercy Medical Center prior to the COVID pandemic. 

“I told my wife, I now know what I want to do when I grow up”, Dr. Thomas Howard said.

The family medical and emergency room doctor at Essentia Health in Deer River for 26 years, will now be taking a leave of absence from his job in Minnesota, and he and his wife Cheri’ will be spending at least the next three years on a medical mission’s trip in Cambodia.

“It was really two things that got my attention. You want to go and help people with your medical skills, and you want to share God’s love and teach Christ,” he explained. “We hope to leave in late October. People think I’m retiring but I’m taking a leave of absence. We will find an apartment to rent when we get there.”

Dr. Howard, whom has completed several other missions trips every few years in Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Central America and Africa, was in Cambodia in 2011.

“2011 was in my mind a time to do it again,” he said. “It was just a very unique experience for me.”

In 2011, when he was 50, he researched, and was looking for another place to go. That’s when he found Mercy Medical Center in Cambodia.

“It’s a training hospital for family medicine resident physicians,” Dr. Howard said.  

“It really resonated with me, the need there, the people I met there. That resonated with me more than any other places,” he said. “At the time it didn’t mean that I was going to do it full time.”

Typically, through his missionary work, he would travel for two weeks at a time.

He stated, “I never really felt I was “needed” in the other places. In Cambodia, there was a lot of people that hadn’t met a Christian before. There was a place that didn’t know much about Christianity, and the medical needs were tremendous. I was excited to go to a place with fluent medical translators. I also got a chance to meet the students who were super engaged.”

He continued, “Their education for medicine is not very good.” 

Dr. Howard and his wife, Cheri’, have raised six children on Bass Lake, and homeschooled all their children. Five of the kids live in the Twin Cities, and one is at North Dakota State University. Four children are married and they have five grandkids.

Their hopes are to travel back to Minnesota annually, and some of the kids have expressed interest of visiting.

“I’ve loved working here and it’s been a great place for family,” Dr. Howard said. “I’ve always liked doing international medical missions work.”

Through the nine times that he has gone, he now will switch from the mobile clinic to the hospital-based ministries.

“I’ll be a faculty teaching physician for the residents and also supervising the care of the patients,” he explained. “My wife, will teach English to the staff there.”

Upon arrival, the Howards will have to do language training.

“Initially our focus is learning Khmer language,” he said. “That will make us more effective.”

With his work, additional duties will be to be in charge of the medical skills lab.

And of Essentia Health, Dr. Howard said, “It’s a wonderful team to work with. It’s a patient-centered organization, both in Deer River and with Essentia. We have many more resources at our disposal to take care of patients. Equipment, telemedicine, visiting specialists, electronic medical records and support that have just gradually increases over the years. This keeps the care we provide to continue getting better and better.”

More information about Mercy Medical Center can be found on www.mercymedcambodia.com. If you are wanting to follow Dr. Howard on his journey, one can send a Facebook request to join his group, Howard’s Journey to Cambodia. Updates will be posted frequently on his page.

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