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An International Doctor

Dr. Martha Franz, an ’06 UI international studies alumna, practices medicine in Cameroon, West Africa.

A degree in international studies can lead to many different opportunities. For Dr. Martha Franz, ‘06 of Coeur d’Alene, her educational journey led her to Njinikom, Cameroon, where she practices family medicine at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Hospital.

St. Martin’s is located in Njinikom, a beautiful rural town in the northwest region of Cameroon. Overseen by Franciscan nuns, the 125-bed facility is staffed primarily by West Africans. Franz’s shifts rotate between family medicine, ward care and on-call duties. 

“My most successful story is currently a set of twins who were born at 28 weeks and 4 days, and weighed about one pound each,” she said. “Now, they are 37 weeks, gestation age, and are plump! I am so proud of them.”

Franz’s journey to Cameroon began at age 11, when she decided she wanted to “cure cancer and become a doctor.” Inspired by images from her grandmother’s National Geographic magazines, Franz knew she wanted to practice in Africa. 

“I looked through every one of them, but was always drawn back to the ones about Africa, especially the Maasai people,” she said during a recent visit to UI. 

Bill Smith, the director of the International Studies Program in the University of Idaho’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, advised Franz when she was a freshman. 

“She knew from the start that she wanted to be a doctor in Africa,” he said. “She wanted to earn an IS degree, learn to speak French, and take pre-med classes. She came here with the idea of combining an IS degree with pre-med coursework, so that when she became an M.D., she’d really understand the international system and her role in it.” 

When Franz graduated in 2006, she had earned a degree in international studies with an emphasis in international relations, a minor in French, and had fulfilled her prerequisites for medical school. 

“You don’t have to work at a foreign embassy or an NGO for your international studies major to matter,” Franz said. “It is always worth it to be an international studies major.”

Franz attended Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine in Chicago. During summer breaks, she job-shadowed a physician in Rwanda and visited Kenya, where she was able meet a tribe of the Maasai. She graduated in 2011 and returned to Idaho, completing her residency in family medicine in 2014. She enrolled in the Mission Doctors Association and was assigned to Cameroon on a three-year mission called Project Hope at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Hospital.

“Life is hard, but the local people find joy where they can. That kind of joy is incredibly infectious," she said.

To read more about Franz’s experience in Cameroon, visit her personal blog, “Dr. Martha in Cameroon.”

St. Martin's Hospital
St. Martin's Hospital
Njinikom, Cameroon
Njinikom, Cameroon

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