Oh, the Places You’ll Go

photo by Moyan Brenn shared through cc by 2.0

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Traveling abroad can be challenging and rewarding. It can also be contagious and have greater impacts than one might imagine.

When Dr. Sue Anne Bell and Dr. Jason Bell met in high school, neither had any experience traveling outside of the country. It was not until their sophomore year in college that they started saving money for their first trip abroad together. They were ecstatic when they bought their tickets to journey through the realms of Southeast Asia.

The Bells took three months to explore and backpack through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Nepal; and it was this initial trip that set the stage for the couple’s global focus on life. “It was so vibrant and real that I didn’t have any culture shock at all,” Jason recalls. “It was an eye-opening experience, and it was in that moment, I knew I wanted to work abroad.”

After Dr. Jason Bell completed his Obstetrics & Gynecology (OBGYN) Residency at the Medical College of Georgia, the Bells moved to Michigan where he became a fellow in the Society of Family Planning. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology in the University of Michigan Medical School. His fellowship has taken him to Ghana many times and, along with other program fellows, has helped establish relations with Ghanaians and conduct reproductive health research. This fellowship was accepted by the Ghana College and became the first accepted OBGYN fellowship in Africa. In addition he works in Ethiopia and Kenya, where his research focuses on the intersection between contraception and reproductive infectious diseases. 

Dr. Sue Anne Bell, a Clinical Associate Professor at U-M and Nurse Practitioner, supports team training activities at St Paul’s Millennium Medical College, collaborates with the Department of Nursing at Aksum University, both in Ethiopia, and has recently focused on developing a comprehensive model of care for human trafficking survivors with colleagues from Law and Nursing in Ethiopia and at Michigan. She also leads the Nursing aim for the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaboration in which a “train the trainers” approach was used to create a Bachelor of Emergency Nursing offered through the Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana.. “Now, a good cohort of nurses do the bulk of the training,” Bell notes, “and it shows the system is ongoing and sustainable, which is a goal for any program that is set in place.”

Dr. Jason Bell spent seven weeks in Ethiopia as a medical student, working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in refugee women’s health, leaving his three week old first daughter at home. He knew he wanted to specialize in OBGYN, and this transformational opportunity allowed him to work on a globally implemented project that produced a rapid reproductive health assessment for refugees and displaced women. “I was 100% in favor of him going to Ethiopia because that had always been our goal,” Sue Anne says. “If I could have gone along with him, I would have.”

In his third year of residency, Dr. Bell became the first resident from the Medical College of Georgia to complete a global health elective. This time, Sue Anne and their daughters, 2-month-old Megan and 2 ½-year old Madison, joined him in Mumbai, India.

Long-distance travel and crazy scheduling has definitely shaped how the Bells live their lives, but these challenges have helped create their family dynamics. “Sometimes we wish we could take Madison (11), Megan (9), and Meredith (6) with us more often and not be so incredibly busy all of the time,” Sue Anne explains, “but I would not change anything for what we have. “In fact, we want to incorporate this lifestyle into the everyday lives of our children. We promised our kids they will have traveled to all seven continents by the end of their senior year in high school.”

It truly does take a village to raise kids, and both Jason and Sue Anne are grateful for having family and friends who are actively engaged with their children’s lives. “We love what we do,” Jason says, “I am thankful that I can share these experiences with my wife and children. The going does get tough sometimes, but pushing through these challenges allows us to grow closer as a family.”

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