The Medical Mission

Diane C. Downing RN, BS, MPH

It was sixth or seventh grade and Diane Downing’s future had already been determined.  Exposed to missionary work by professional parents who provided financial support for church and school missions, the mid-Michigan native knew she wanted to become a nurse to help people.  And after seeing pictures from the other side of the world, she longed for the opportunity to go where the need was greatest.

Diane made her first trip overseas following the completion of bachelor’s degree in nursing from Wheaton College.  Having been accepted into a missionary program that would see her placed in the Congo, she went to Switzerland to study French.  From there it was on to the Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, where she earned a diploma in tropical medicine for nurses.

In 1971, Diane began her missionary work in the Congo.  With only short breaks in her assignments, she spent nearly 20 years working as a primary care provider and community health nurse.  At her first stop - Oicha - in the Inturi Forest, she joined a staff that served 1,200 outpatients per day.  At her final destination - Assa – Diane was the sole medical professional within a 100-mile radius.

Diane arrived in Assa to find that 500 children had recently died from a measles epidemic.  One of her first projects was giving measles immunizations in the villages.  In the next ten years, there was only one death from the disease.  She was so well known that some would travel 100 miles on foot for her assistance.

While serving as a primary care provider at most of her stops, Diane examined, diagnosed and treated patients.  She also taught hygiene practices, well-child clinics and trained clinical assistants.   

At the forefront of health promotion and disease prevention, Diane is renowned for her expertise in the treatment of endemic goiters and neonatal hypothyroidism (cretinism).

Now based in Gaithersburg, MD, Diane teaches at Montgomery College where she is an instructor for certified nursing assistants.

Diane has two daughters who are nurses, Dawn Ryckman of Rochester, N.Y. and Shelly Downing of Boston.  Dawn and Shelly have performed missionary work in locales that include Haiti, Jamaica and Chad.  Diane’s son, Scott, who was born in Congo, is a missionary school builder based in Chad.