In Practice: Robert Wells, M.D.

Robert Wells, M.D. portrait
Photo by Margaret Allee

As part of an ongoing series, Providence profiles Robert Wells, M.D., a family physician with Providence Medical Group-The Plaza

Past lives
Medical degree, Oregon Health & Science University; family medicine residency, Kern Medical Center, Bakersfield, Calif.

11 medical mission trips to Guatemala and two trips to Kenya; board member, Faith in Practice

What led you to lead mission trips?
Jim Stempel, a gynecologist, was going one year and he needed to replace a primary care physician for the village team. I said that I would be happy to go to Guatemala ... but where is Guatemala?

As we were embarking for remote parts of the country that first year, I realized that this was a whole different trip than I had ever been on. It is an incredibly meaningful experience, one that’s spiritual in nature. I haven’t looked back since.

How many villagers seek your help?
We typically treat between 2,000 and 2,500 patients in four days.

Is language a barrier?
Yes, because in some of the areas we travel to, Spanish is not the dominant language. That leaves an interpreter talking to an interpreter. Very interesting.

How do these trips help you as a doctor?
They remind us why we went into medicine in the first place. We are serving people who have very little access to medical care. We are privileged to take care of them and they’re so appreciative of any help we can provide; even if that means, sadly, that we can only tell them they are going to die.

What will you remember most about your trip to Jalapa this past spring?
The case that moved me was an elderly gentleman with Parkinson’s disease who had been put to bed for the past five years. He was very stiff, but the main thing we did was to get the family to do physical therapy to get him into a sitting posture. We provided a wheelchair so that he could leave his house.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I was music major originally, but I took a chemistry course to go to Western Washington University and loved it. The rest is history.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?
Probably a teacher.

How can people get involved with one your mission trips?
I am always looking for medical people as well as Spanish interpreters. Either can email me. We have two teams going out next year so we could really use the help.

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