The Medical Mission

Jeffery E. Heck

It was probably pretty easy for Dr. Jeffery, Heck to name the charitable organization he founded in 1996. Six years before its official launch, he stood face to face and shoulder to shoulder with the members of poor, rural communities in Honduras, providing them with much-needed healthcare services.

Now his Shoulder to Shoulder organization is a network of partnerships between nine academic health centers and nine in-need communities, seven in Honduras and two in Ecuador and Tanzania.

Dr. Heck’s interest in bringing modern health care to the Third World started a few years after he graduated from the Medical College of Ohio in 1979. Two trips to Kenya to relieve doctors covering a 200-bed hospital sent Dr. Heck on a mission to find, as he says, “a foothold where a long-term commitment could make a meaningful difference.”

In 1990, he found that foothold. A trip to Central America while he was a clinical associate professor at the University of Cincinnati brought the problems of Santa Lucia, Honduras, to his attention. The nearest doctor in Santa Lucia was five hours away, ten when it rained: an unacceptable distance for a community with high risk factors for infectious disease and malnutrition.

But thanks to Dr. Heck’s work and vision, these communities now have full-time medical and dental personnel. Dr. Heck and his organization also provide more than 2,500 children per day with clean water and food. They offer 165 scholarships to poor children to help advance their education and have enrolled 23 schools in a program that works to increase the self-esteem of young girls.

Currently a professor at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Heck holds the position of Director of Medical Education for Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina where he is helping train the next generation of volunteers and surgeons in the field of international health.

Since the inception of Dr. Heck’s program, more than 3,000 doctors, residents and volunteers have stood side by side with needy communities in rural Honduras and around the world, helping to shoulder the burden of health care.