Written by: Dr. Joel Anthis | Texas ENT Specialists
The adage goes, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” It is everyone’s childhood dream to be able to make one’s passion one’s profession. Fortunately, I get to live that dream through my everyday job at Texas Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists and mission work.
“The patient always comes first” is a different way of saying “love your neighbor as yourself” and finding fulfillment through service both in my ear, nose and throat clinic in the U.S., and also in an ENT clinic and hospital in West Africa.
I attended a medical conference while still in medical school and was challenged to consider using the skills being invested in me to serve others in great need overseas. Not long after, I decided to take a year off between my second and third year of medical school to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite the obvious language barrier, I experienced deep relationships and a sense of belonging there that defies understanding.
As the year abroad came to a close, I felt led to pursue a career as an ENT surgeon with a goal returning overseas long term. I completed medical school and ENT residency training, I continued to make short trips as a medical missionary to various countries such as Mexico, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, and Nigeria. Looking back at my mission trips, a door was opened to longer term work in Nigeria, West Africa. There was absolutely no ENT medical or surgical treatment available in the area of Nigeria where we were working, and the need for a resident ENT was great. After intense deliberation and praying, my wife, who is a family physician, and I felt called to leave our medical practices in Texas and move to West Africa to serve in a missionary hospital in Jos, Nigeria. We packed up a few belongings, a lot of medical equipment, and all of our kids and moved to Nigeria full time, for a total of three years.
As soon as we arrived, we spent time in the community to understand exactly how we could help. We were told at the hospital that ear problems didn’t exist. This was a bit concerning because there are never no ear problems. Our instincts were right. There were plenty of ear and hearing problems, but the hospital didn’t own any standard ENT resources to properly diagnose or treat symptoms. Since they could not be treated, no one with these problems came to the hospital or clinic. Simple resources such as otoscopes, which are used to examine the ears and screen for illness during regular check-ups or evaluate ear symptoms, weren’t available. Through many generous donors, we were able to acquire the necessary equipment to exam and perform life-changing surgeries including: endoscopic sinus surgery, microscopic laryngeal surgery, removal of life-threatening foreign objects in the lungs, throat and esophagus, and perform restorative microscopic ear surgery. Through collaborative efforts, we were able to perform the first cochlear implants (to our knowledge) in all of West Africa. From that moment, we were able to build an ENT clinic at our hospital with excellent hearing testing equipment, dispense hearing aids and train physicians. We sponsored one family physician to go on for formal ENT residency training. Because of our efforts, there is now an ENT residency training program in Jos with Nigerian ENT faculty.
There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see their students achieve and exponentially expand the medical impact of a healing ministry; but by God’s grace, that is just what we have experienced.
I encourage doctors to take their training, knowledge and hearts to countries that are in desperate need for medical help. Not only will you help a community survive, but you will personally grow as a doctor and as a person.
Dr. Joel Anthis is a specialist at Texas Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists. He believes a successful practice is based on putting the patient first. By establishing a deep relationship and connection with his patients, he can better treat them and care for their individualized needs. Dr. Anthis is a native Houstonian and graduated from Westchester High School in Spring Branch ISD. He attended the University of Virginia for undergraduate studies and returned to Houston for medical school, attending Baylor College of Medicine. He completed his ENT internship and residency at East Virginia Graduate School of Medicine. Dr. Anthis has a passion for medical mission work. He and his family spent three years working full-time in a Christian missionary hospital called Evangel Hospital in Jos, Nigeria, West Africa. When he is not giving back to the community, he enjoys playing tennis and spending time with his wife and four children.