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Rebecca A. McAteer Martin, M.D. '08, Shares her Mission in Healing

Dr. Martin's Personal Journey and Experience in Nepal Shape Her Unique Approach to Medicine and Life's Calling

April 17, 2024
Rebecca A. McAteer Martin, M.D. '08
Rebecca A. McAteer Martin, M.D. '08

Dr. Martin found her greatest inspiration in her late mother, Mary Hawkins McAteer, M.D. '75, a New York Medical College alumna and an ophthalmologist, who paved the way with her own impactful career. Surrounded by the achievements of her mother, Dr. Martin's fascination with the intricacies of the human body flourished, and ultimately guided her towards a fulfilling career in healing and health care.
"I remember in college taking a medical humanities seminar and realizing that it's not just a matter of passing organic chemistry and calculus  it's really a matter of, 'can I emotionally sustain the hard work of entering into peoples' suffering,' and doing so in a way that is supportive for patients and families, and sustainable for my own personhood," said Dr. Martin. 
During her rotations, Dr. Martin knew that she was destined to specialize in family medicine, specifically in the hospital setting. For three years, she was a family medicine resident in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and stayed in the same hospital as a physician for a local refugee clinic’s inpatient service. Dr. Martin witnessed firsthand the profound inadequacies of the health care system, where countless patients were left underserved and in desperate need of medical attention. Alongside her patients, she grappled with the harsh realities of insufficient access to care.

Moreover, she found inspiration in colleagues who had dedicated time to serving communities abroad, their experiences serving as a catalyst for introspection and personal growth. It was during this period that her desire to make a global impact crystallized, prompting her to seize the opportunity and apply for a medical mission in Nepal. Dr. Martin's unwavering faith in Christ further fueled her desire to extend her healing touch beyond borders, leading her to embark on a journey abroad.
"I just realized one day that I either do this or I don't. It will never be easier than it is now. At the time I didn't have a family, I wasn't married, I had no children, no mortgage, no loans or debt, so it would never be easier to kind of just uproot and go. And I really didn't want this to be something 'I almost did once,' and then never made happen."
Dr. Martin's longstanding fascination with South Asian culture had also been accompanied by stories from friends who passionately recounted their mission trips to Nepal. Yet, her own experience in the country from 2013 to 2015 at Tansen Mission Hospital in the Annapurna Himalayan foothills of western Nepal brought forth a myriad of challenges. She learned the Nepali language while living there, yet while conversant in the language and culture, she was always aware of being a “bideshi” or foreigner, and grappled with the complexities of practicing medicine in a new culture. The somber reality of poverty, illness, and loss also weighed heavily as she navigated the delicate balance of providing care with limited resources, witnessing the passing of many of her patients, including newborns. She was also part of an emergency mission after the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake outside of Kathmandu in April 2015.
"Part of me really had a hard time with the transition of practicing medicine in America and then Nepal, because a lot of challenges confronting me were happening all at once, which I needed to address simultaneously,” she said. “But I was given really good advice to not compare what the care would be in Nepal versus America, because it's a fruitless comparison. But instead to say, what would the care be if I was not here, versus if I am here? And so, what difference can I personally make in this context, given what is the reality now."
Dr. Martin documented her two-year journey in Nepal through a series of blog posts, which led her to publish the book, Though the Darkness: Medicine, Missions, and Meeting God in Nepal, in 2023, with encouragement from her late father.  She included the valuable lessons she learned, which were the importance of flexibility, perseverance, steadfastness, cultural awareness, resourcefulness, humility, and resiliency. 
"The experience made me a better clinician, in the sense that I was able to do better physical diagnosis without all the tools that we have to rely on in America," she said. "It also taught me a great deal about cultural humility as an outsider."
After a decade practicing family medicine, Dr. Martin seamlessly transitioned into palliative care, a path she had always envisioned. "I wanted to ensure I was a proficient clinician, capable of managing complex priorities, before delving into palliative care," she explained. The specialty held a profound personal resonance for her, as her journey began when her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer and passed away during her first year of medical school. Tragically, her father's enrollment in hospice coincided with her wedding, marking another pivotal moment that reinforced her calling to palliative care.
"It feels like such a gift for me to be able to do this work, particularly at this stage of my life," Dr. Martin said.