Earn up to 50 CME credits with OMED23 on-demand programming | REGISTER TODAY!

Looking Forward

Highlighting the value of mentorship

An Interview with Cyril Blavo, DO, MPH

By Mahi Basra, OMS III


Looking Forward Newsletter: Fall 2023

Mentorship has emerged as the foundation for both personal and professional growth in the ever-evolving landscape of medicine. The invaluable relationship between accomplished medical professionals and their mentees extends beyond traditional teaching. Fostering this relationship allows for the exchange of knowledge, skills, and experiences, providing a powerful catalyst for nurturing the next generation of healthcare leaders.

Dr. Blavo

This fall, the Bureau of Emerging Leaders Communications Workgroup connected with Cyril Blavo, DO, MPH, FACOP, to discuss his outstanding mentorship work and many accomplishments. As a recipient of several philanthropy, lifetime achievement, and service awards, Dr. Blavo provides medical students and other mentees throughout the world with invaluable guidance. His dedication to fostering the next generation of healthcare leaders ensures that his impact will be felt for generations to come.

Dr. Blavo’s dedication to improving global health is evident through his involvement in various international projects. As a driving force behind several medical initiatives, he has brought medical attention to underserved communities around the world. From Nepal to Rwanda to Peru, Dr. Blavo’s outreach has made a tangible difference in countless lives. This month, we had the privilege of interviewing and speaking with Dr. Blavo:

Mahi Basra, OMS III: When did you discover your passion for mentorship?

Dr. Blavo: Since childhood I have always been gratified by helping others. In adulthood, I realized that service is not just my passion, but also my purpose. Service aligns with my faith and spirit. Mentoring, in my view, is planting seeds for the future. It is about giving my mentees the opportunity to realize their potential. I have seen many of these seeds bear incredible fruit, and this gives me humility and gratitude. I am described by my mentees as “the guide by the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” because of my focus on capacity building. I carefully observe their motivations, identify their talents, and give them the guidance to “row their boat”. This includes strategic planning, project management, program evaluation, capacity building, and scholarly communication.  These young aspiring professionals have been amazing.

MB: What is your most valuable/memorable experience from mentorship with medical students?

Dr. Blavo: Observing my mentees develop, understand, and actualize the role of a humanitarian, that is making the needs of others important, even as they prioritize their own needs and aspirations, is what impresses me the most. Seeing one learn about the earthquake in Nepal, breaching of water supply sources, identifying the clean water needs of the school children, and coordinating an initiative to provide water filtration units to each school where hundreds of children could safely drink water was one impressive effort by a mentee. Coordinating malaria prevention efforts through health education and mosquito control training of villagers in Sierra Leone and developing a UNICEF bed net distribution program to every hut in the village, and thus reducing the mortality rate of children in the village is another remarkable effort by a group of mentees.

Training and equipping community health workers in Zambia to conduct a sustainable breast cancer awareness and de-stigmatization program among vulnerable villagers is another wonderful initiative by a group of mentees. Facilitating young farmers in the village of Tafi atome, Ghana to train as bricklayers, carpenters, and painters to build a seven-room clinic for their village while training young village women to weave baskets for sale to tourists as revenue to run the clinic sustainably is another success story of a group of mentees. Current projects by my mentees include cancer awareness and support, mental health, mitigation of maternal mortality, oral health promotion, malaria control, 3D printed prosthesis for amputees. These initiatives serve vulnerable populations in Peru, Guyana, Rwanda, India, Nepal, Ghana, and other global communities.

MB: What inspired you to start your non-profit organization?

Dr. Blavo: Our non-profit was established by a diverse group of friends who had a common inspiration to serve specific needs of underserved populations around the world. We recognized that the best way to serve others is through capacity building (“teaching them to fish, rather than fishing for them”). While we had a desire to help others, it was important to us that any good outcomes should be sustainable. We felt that empowerment of vulnerable communities to help themselves, would preserve their dignity and strengthen their self-reliance.

When we initiated this effort, students from a variety of institutions in the US, and abroad, reached out to me for mentorship and expressed their interest to volunteer in some of our initiatives. We identify roles and responsibilities for them and together with a diverse group of volunteers they experience international collaboration and coordination of humanitarian initiatives. This gives them the opportunity to contribute innovative ideas and skills towards enhancing the well-being of others. Over the years these experiences have led young volunteers to develop leadership roles in society, carried their passions into a variety of fields of healthcare, and directed their goals towards a life-long service to vulnerable populations. Although we are told that our humanitarian effort has been meaningful and impactful, we have always maintained a shoe-string budget, and operationalized it as an after-hours hobby.

MB: How was your career path? What did you do to get to where you are today?

Dr. Blavo: While my medical training was focused on Pediatrics, I pursued additional education and training in Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University to prepare myself with a strong foundation in global health capacity building. I have been applying the knowledge and skills I acquire in teaching, mentoring and capacity building for over 30 years.

MB: What advice do you have for medical students or residents that are interested in mentorship?

Dr. Blavo: Deeds go much farther than words. There are many needs out there that call for your deeds. If not you, then who?