Cathy Hoelzer, MPH, PA-C
On Christmas Day 2016, Certified PA Cathy Hoelzer and her husband were in South Sudan, lying prone with their faces on the floor as bullets flew all around them. Two days later, they and their team were evacuated. Shortly thereafter, the compounds were looted and vandalized. They, along with their teammates, lost all they owned. It was the fourth time they suffered loss while working in Sudan/South Sudan.
This year, she changed her field of service to Jordan. Although she knows Arabic, she is currently learning the Jordanian dialect of the language so she can work among poor Bedouins. “My plans are to start public health programs in the southern region of Jordan and focus on chronic disease management and prevention,” she says. “We will work with Bedouins who suffer from lack of care, have diabetes, are heavy smokers, obese and get little exercise.”
Hoelzer was nominated for recognition here by another PA who has provided care on international medical missions. “As the medical director for a facility that cared for South Sudanese and refugees in desperate need of help, Cathy Hoelzer provided first-hand medical relief to those who suffered the heart-breaking loss of turmoil and war,” says Danielle Moyer, PA-C. “She is a leader in international medical outreach and made a difference in the lives of children and families who lost their homes, their communities, and family. She provided hope and relief through excellent medical care to the suffering and dying people of South Sudan.”
Since 1991, Hoelzer has worked overseas in Kurdish refugee camps on the Turkish border, and in Iraq, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan and now, Jordan. Until 1999, she worked mainly as a medical assistant, and over time she became interested in becoming a PA.
She returned to the U.S. in 1996, and in 2001, earned her degree in PA Studies from Hahnemann University (now Drexel) in Philadelphia. Hoelzer then joined an internal medicine group and practiced in New Mexico serving an underserved population for several years.
However, she felt called to care for the least served people overseas, so she earned a Masters of Public Health in International Health and Development from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and later did a midwifery internship in the Philippines.
Since 2006, Hoelzer has provided holistic, direct patient care in clinics that her husband helps build. She has also supervised and trained Sudanese health workers in primary healthcare clinics across the area. In 2013, she took over managing a large healthcare program in Eastern Upper Nile State. Until they were displaced at the end of last year, the clinic averaged 37,000 patient visits a year. The half million-dollar program she ran reached out to 70,000 locals and 135,000 refugees.
Working in South Sudan required that Hoelzer learn how to diagnose and treat neglected tropical diseases, which affect over 1 billion people worldwide. She has lectured on this subject, as well as on healthcare in complex humanitarian emergencies for many years. Hoelzer has experience in internal medicine, urgent care, family medicine, maternal care, management of severe malnutrition, and neglected tropical diseases.
For her efforts, Hoelzer received the 2007 Humanitarian PA of the Year Award from AAPA. In 2013, she received the International Medicine Award from the Institute for International Medicine (INMED). She will give several medical lectures at an international medical conference in March 2018 in Greece.
Even with all she and her husband have lost multiple times, Hoelzer isn’t ready to give up her international career. “We are dedicated to this,” she says. “We would rather help those who have the greatest need, and we have found that on this side of the world.