Dr. Julie Tokarski, a member of the Eastern Christian High School Class of 2001, recently visited Haiti as a member of a medical mission organized by Nova Hope for Haiti. Dr. Tokarski is a pediatrician who is currently completing a fellowship in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY.
Julie recently spoke with us about her experiences in Haiti, her work as a physician in the Bronx, and the ways in which her Eastern Christian education prepared her for the work of transformation that she undertakes each day.
1. Please tell us about the trip that you recently took to Haiti. What was the composition of your team? Where did you work? How long was your trip? What sort of patients did you and your team work with?
“This spring I traveled to Haiti with an organization called NOVA Hope for Haiti. It is a non-profit associated with The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, but I actually learned about it through a number of co-workers who had traveled to Haiti with this group before. Our team was made up of 24 people, including three pediatricians, three adult physicians, nurses, an EMT, translators and support staff. During the eight days we were there, we were able to provide medical care for more than 850 Haitians from Cavaillon and the surrounding areas. Many patients walked for miles dressed in their best clothes to come to the NOVA clinic. Among the pediatric patients, most of the conditions we saw were related to moderate-severe malnutrition and lack of a clean water supply.”
2. Can you tell us about your career and the work that you are doing now?
“After medical school at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, I completed a residency in general pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) in the Bronx. I stayed at CHAM after residency to do a fellowship program in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. I just finished the first of three years of fellowship. I love practicing medicine in the Bronx; it is such a medically, culturally and socioeconomically diverse place to work!”
3. Can you tell us about your education after EC and how you made the decision to become a physician?
“I don’t recall ever making the decision to become a physician. I think I was about three years old when I knew I wanted to be a ‘baby doctor,’ and I never really considered any other career path. There are a lot of uncertainties in life, but that was never one for me; I knew what God’s calling was for my life, I just had to figure out how to get there! I was a biology major at Oral Roberts University, and while a student there I had opportunities such as cadaver dissection laboratory and medical missions that reaffirmed my calling. After college I worked in a laboratory for one year before moving to central Jersey to start medical school at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.”
4. What do remember most about your education at EC? How did your EC education prepare you for your subsequent education and your career as a doctor?
“What comes to mind first when I reflect on my EC education is ‘worldview.’ I remember many points in my education when we were challenged to define our worldview… Not just in general terms, but to really define who we were and how we viewed our existence. I don’t think I appreciated how important that was at the time. Now I know that so many in our society allow their worldview to be molded by their culture and peers. But I was taught to define my own worldview, and then use that, in turn, to mold my society and peers. I was so blessed to have a Christ-centered education, because now being Christ-centered is ingrained in how I learn and how I view the world. That is invaluable to me in my everyday work. Serving the under served in the Bronx is often thankless and grueling work, and it can be easy to grumble and complain; but it is much harder to complain when I remember that I am the hands of Christ, The Great Physician.”
5. How does the work that you recently did in Haiti and the work that you do each day in NYC correspond with EC’s mission of “transforming the world?
“I think that God has called me to transform His world through service. He has given each of us unique strengths; I have never been an eloquent speaker or comfortable in front of a crowd. For a while I thought that I needed to speak more with my words to effectively share Him with others. There are certainly times when words are necessary, but I’ve learned that humble service can also speak volumes. “
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’’” (Matthew 25:34-40).