A pharmacist returns to MSF: 'I'm back!'

After taking a break from MSF assignments, Kim decides its time to return to the field. But what will it be like this time? She blogs about what it takes to get ready to spend 12 months in a new country...

I’m back! I really can’t believe it myself but it’s true… I’m heading to Kampala for a year. A YEAR! I’m excited to return to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) for a assignment in Uganda as it is a beautiful country and a challenging context for pharmacy (from what I’ve learned)!
I’m frequently asked by friends and family why I am returning to MSF. After spending about two years back in the USA after my last set of assignments with MSF, I recently found myself reflecting on the things that have been the most rewarding in my life and how I want to spend my time. It was clear that while I enjoy working in the USA, MSF was where I routinely found my most meaningful work. Every day I am faced with interesting challenges that make me think in innovative ways and allow me to meet interesting people with amazing experiences and stories to tell. While it wasn’t an easy decision, I think it is the right one for me.

I recently found myself reflecting on the things that have been the most rewarding in my life and how I want to spend my time...

I had 19 days from assignment confirmation to departure and as you can imagine, despite my advanced planning, there was lots to get done. I gave notice at work, finalized the sale of my home, sold about half of my belongings, and packed up my remaining stuff (both with a formal moving company and in a storage unit). How do you decide what to pack when you are leaving for a year? What will be available in country? Needless to say, it was stressful and busy but I managed to get it all done and find time to catch up with family and friends before my departure.
As I head out of the USA, I have many questions but thankfully no doubts. Since MSF international staff can bring their families to this posting, will there be other single people in the team? What will the living situation be like (roommate or no roommate)? Will I be able to take a hot shower? What will the food be like? What will my colleagues be like? Will there be a washing machine? What are the security limitations? And most importantly, do I have the knowledge and experience to do the job? 
My first weeks with MSF were spent in France at trainings and briefings (meetings to inform you about the assignment, your role, the challenges, etc). The trainings happened to coincide with the start of my assignment and offered a great opportunity to get a refresher on some important topics and learn new things and meet people who work in MSF projects around the world.
The trainees from the MSF supply training session
Our group from the Supply Management Training. Photo: Kimberly Cremers / MSF.
The first training was the Advanced Pharmacy Training where I met 25 MSF pharmacists. The second training was Supply Management Training which was directed at supply managers and pharmacists (since we often work together). Both trainings included national staff (working in their native country) and international staff (MSF staff like me that work outside their home country) which made the discussions more robust.
Between the trainings, I had briefings with many different MSF teams including the pharmacy support team in Paris, MSF Logistique staff in Bordeaux (where most of the medical supply comes from), and the team that supports the Ugandan projects from Paris. Due to my absence from MSF for more than two years and the complexity of importing medications/medical supplies into Uganda, my time in France was very productive.
I’ve arrived in Uganda and am ready to learn more about my assignment, the challenges, and the reality ahead. Let’s see if a hot shower is in the cards!