Life on assignment: Anaesthetist, Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker is an anaesthetist and has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières in Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen and Liberia.

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What made you join Médecins Sans Frontières?

Médecins Sans Frontières allows me to express my raison d’être - reason for being. I believe we have a collective responsibility to shoulder some of the suffering of others. And be unafraid to be present with the disempowered, the unloved and the forgotten. Médecins Sans Frontières persists in advocating for the voiceless and remains independent, neutral and impartial in these complex times of government and military manipulation of humanitarian aid. For these reasons, together with being amongst that rare band of volunteers, in the office and field, reaffirms why I joined.

Did you always want to work abroad in your speciality or was it something you only thought about later in life?

I knew nearly thirty years ago that I would one day work with Médecins Sans Frontières. But like many, I became lost in the responsibilities and minutiae of daily living.

In the various countries and contexts you have worked in - what has been the most challenging for you?

Really, all have been challenging and personally rewarding. Not just to act as an anaesthetist and emergency doctor in critical situations, but more importantly to teach and mentor the skills of trauma management. Perhaps of greater importance, and more humbling, is to share in the thoughts, dreams and culture of the local people.

"Maintain your dream. That first step of joining Médecins Sans Frontières and daring to act is uplifting. Despite moments of hesitation, the experience is exhilarating."

What motivates you and drives you to keep going into some of the world's most difficult humanitarian crises?

To watch a Sinhalese and a Tamil combatant, each with gun shot wounds, grasp with compassion for each other’s hand from adjacent beds in Sri Lanka. To sense the pride of the new Liberian nurse anaesthetists, leaving the theatre hesitantly on their first medical emergency response in the chaotic obstetric ward. To be part of the humour and philosophising of the indigenous Yemeni medical team as we cook some food while somewhere in the distance Pink Floyd music is playing - punctuated with the sound of gunfire from the streets of Haydan in Yemen. Establishing meetings with elected leaders of each hamlet from the mountains around Bagh, (in the first week since the Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan), impassioned in their arguments about emergency supplies with the incoming winter, with many of their families buried beneath the collapsed buildings around us.

For anyone thinking about doing a placement as an anaesthetist or in a medical position – what would your advice be?

Maintain your dream. That first step of joining Médecins Sans Frontières and daring to act is uplifting. Despite moments of hesitation, the experience is exhilarating. Contact Médecins Sans Frontières. Also ask to discuss your questions or doubts with someone of your speciality who has experienced life on mission.

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