Past, present, future

Seeking a more hands-on career, a humanitarian aide chooses medicine

Taisei Suzuki, DO, hopes to transform his previous calling into one that involves treating underserved patients across the globe.


When Taisei Suzuki, DO, started medical school at the A.T. Still University-Kirksville (Missouri) College of Osteopathic Medicine, he brought with him nearly a decade of experience in international humanitarian aid in Africa.

Dr. Suzuki graduated this month and is headed to a family medicine residency with the Wright Center Graduate Medical Education program in Washington, DC, but when he finishes, he hopes to transform his previous career into one that involves treating underserved patients across the globe.

In this edited interview, Dr. Suzuki talks about his background, how it led him to medical school and where he hopes to go in the future.

How did you get into international humanitarian aid work?

I got a master’s degree in international public health, and then I worked for several different nongovernmental organizations, focusing on development and emergency work in developing countries.

The majority of the projects I handled had to do with water sanitation, such as digging wells and building new latrines. I also facilitated health education in a number of countries.

Which countries have you worked in?

I’ve worked in Afghanistan, Liberia, Sudan, Japan and Zimbabwe, which was my last field placement before medical school. I was there with UNICEF from 2008 to 2010. At the time, the government was very unstable, which ultimately led to the biggest cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe’s history. UNICEF supported the local government by providing water treatment equipment and services.

What drew you to medical school?

When I began my aid career, I worked with local populations. But when I advanced into management, I was spending more time in front of a computer, coordinating with other organizations rather than with the locals.

I realized that I wanted to pursue a more hands-on, grassroots approach to aid. And I know many developing countries desperately need more physicians. After my residency, I’m hoping to work for a humanitarian aid organization again, so I can go back into the field and help out in a different capacity.

Do you want to work in a particular country or part of the world?

I love southern Africa. The weather is nice, the people are amazing and there are so many opportunities to make a positive impact.

Last month, I did a one-month rotation in Zambia. I was stationed at a mission hospital in the country’s rural south. Spending time there made me realize how much I love that region.

What advice would you give to aspiring physicians?

I tell premeds to take a few years to get work or volunteer experience or travel. Doing this will help you develop communication skills and perspective. To succeed in medical school, in addition to being smart, you have to know how to talk to people.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy