"Got to see, hear and feel what Hell on earth is," Dr. Roger Duvivier reported in an e-mail to his colleagues in the Bronx, six days after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. "The devastation and suffering seem beyond what all the powers of the world combined will be able to manage…"
Dr. Roger DuvivierDr. Duvivier, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health at Einstein and its University Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, was in Haiti on a dual mission: to search for his elderly mother, his siblings and extended family and to help with the relief effort. After finding his family members safe, he devoted his time to volunteering with the Haiti Medical Education Project, training health workers in sites across Haiti via an Internet-based platform.
Dr. Duvivier's dispatch from Port-au-Prince represents one chapter in a remarkable medical career spanning 40 years. During his tenure at Einstein and Montefiore, he's made countless humanitarian trips to Haiti and to Guatemala, another developing nation that holds a special place in his heart. He's also been a devoted physician to patients in economically disadvantaged areas of the Bronx. And he's been a beloved teacher and mentor to generations of Einstein students, training them to deliver highly skilled, compassionate reproductive healthcare to women and girls from underserved communities in the U.S. and abroad.
Roger Duvivier (standing), as a studentBorn in Haiti, Dr. Duvivier came to the United States with his family in 1964, when he was 18. They settled in Queens, NY. While fluent in French and Haitian Creole, the young refugee spoke "very little English," so he enrolled in a course for foreign students.
When he entered Einstein in 1970, "I didn't even know where the Bronx was," he recalled, "but it quickly became clear to me that Einstein was special." He remembers seeing a copy of the letter Albert Einstein wrote agreeing to lend his name to a new medical school open to all races and religions. "The global, humanitarian perspective was very appealing," he said, smiling. "I've been following the torch of 'Albert' ever since."
Dr. Duvivier traces his passion for helping the less fortunate to his days as a Boy Scout in Haiti. "I saw poverty, and reaching out to people in need was attractive to me."
During his third year at Einstein, he visited Guatemala for the first time. "I had fallen love with a Guatemalan woman, who was my wife by then, and thereafter with the Mayan people and their culture. I also saw how marginalized the Mayan communities were." Knowing that he wanted to return, and that he'd be working with Hispanic patients in the Bronx, he learned Spanish.
Roger Duvivier with his wife, Edna, and their two childrenAfter graduating from Einstein in 1974, he completed his residency at Jacobi Medical Center. When a major earthquake hit Guatemala two years later, he went to help in the aftermath. Soon after, he began volunteering with WINGS, a non-profit organization that provides family planning education and low-cost reproductive health services to indigenous Guatemalan communities.
His commitment to WINGS continues, focusing on family planning, contraception and cervical cancer detection and prevention. "Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in Guatemala," he noted. Since the Pap smear, the common screening test for cervical cancer, is too expensive for most Mayan women, Dr. Duvivier employs a low-tech alternative—the "visual inspection," using a bright light, a speculum and acetic acid.
"Roger is a special individual," said Nilda I. Soto, assistant dean for diversity enhancement, who has worked with Dr. Duvivier for nearly 25 years. "Our students emulate his gentle, calming demeanor and his respectful way of communicating with patients. They also see how he's carved out his multifaceted career and think, 'I can do that, too.'"
"Roger is an elegant and polished professional who's extremely humble, patient and thoughtful as a provider, teacher and mentor," agreed Dr. Yvette Calderon, professor of clinical emergency medicine and associate dean for diversity enhancement. "He embodies the human piece of medicine that's really important and becoming rare nowadays. He's committed to giving a voice to the voiceless and helping them access the best possible care."
She continued, "His passion for his work energizes and engages everyone around him, including his colleagues. And all Einstein students benefit from his example, learning the value of engaging people in the community as partners, whether providing healthcare in the Bronx or in another country."
Roger Duvivier with members of his class. From 2001 to 2003, he served as president of Einstein’s Alumni Association.To keep that spirit alive, Dr. Calderon plans to start an annual lecture series at Einstein named in Dr. Duvivier's honor. She noted, "Roger's enthusiasm is infectious. It reminds you, 'That's why I got into medicine.'"
Although Dr. Duvivier officially submitted paperwork for his retirement from Einstein and Montefiore in June, at the request of Dr. Irwin R. Merkatz, chair of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health, he has agreed to help with the transition as other faculty members take on his many varied roles, which include attending physician and clerkship director/site leader at Montefiore Health System's Jack D. Weiler Hospital; clinical ultrasonography at multiple Montefiore women's centers; mentor/advisor in global women's health on Montefiore's Moses, Weiler and Wakefield campuses; advisor to Einstein's office of diversity enhancement; and facilitator for the third-year Patients, Doctors, Communities course.
"Roger is a true kindred spirit to me in so many ways," said Dr. Merkatz. "Ever since his return to our department in 1994, I have relied on his many areas of expertise and social commitment. I believe he will be taking the 'spirit of Einstein' with him as he continues to address healthcare struggles in the developing world."
Ultimately, Dr. Duvivier intends to devote greater time to his global health work. He'll continue working with and for WINGS in Guatemala while developing a global tele-medical education program with Dr. Galit Sacajiu, and an HPV research project he started with Dr. Michael Dean of the National Cancer Institute. Partners in Health and Physicians For Haiti also have asked him to help train various healthcare providers, including nurses and OB/GYNs, while also leading ultrasonography workshops at the Hopital Universitaire de Mirebalais, in Haiti.
This past May, Dr. Duvivier was the keynote at the annual dinner for fourth-year students, co-hosted by the Einstein chapters of the Student National Medical Association and the Latino Student Medical Association. Paraphrasing Helen Keller's credo, "the power of one," he told the students: "You may feel like you're only one at times, but you are really much more. You cannot do everything, but still you can do something for others."
He added, "Recognize and transcend your limitations. You're the global solutions in a globally interdependent world."
Posted on: Tuesday, August 26, 2014