Wright State doctor's calling began in Papua New Guinea jungle

Before Nathan Piovesan received his M.D. degree from Wright State University School of Medicine on June 9, he had to journey half-way around the world for his final course. Completing a month-long surgery rotation at a remote missionary hospital in Papua New Guinea was his choice for a finale. He wanted to renew the motivation that led him to become a doctor.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) meant a homecoming for Piovesan. His parents, the Rev. Gary and Dorothy Piovesan, served 20 years as missionaries in a mountainous jungle village there. Nathan grew up there from age 3. He met his wife to be, also named Dorothy, at a mission boarding school in PNG. He learned the Pacific island's most widely used "trade" language. And he experienced firsthand the people's overwhelming need for medical care.

Piovesan's surgery rotation was based at the Kudjip Nazarene Hospital, a 120-bed facility in PNG's eastern highlands. His mentor was Dr. Jim Radcliffe, a general surgeon with 20 years of missionary experience who also practices at Greene Memorial Hospital in Xenia when he is stateside.

"Kudjip had a good surgical suite for the country," Piovesan says. "They had what they needed to handle almost anything -- and you never knew what would come in the door next."

The surgeries ranged from appendectomies and delivering babies by caesarian section to stitching trauma wounds and correcting a young boy's club feet. When not assisting in the surgeries, Piovesan helped out as translator.

"Papua New Guinea is a small country with only 4.5 million people, but there are more than 800 different languages," Piovesan explains. His father was the first outsider to learn the language of the isolated Wuzarambia tribe.

"He started with a tape recorder, a piece of paper, and a pencil," Nathan recalls. "It took him five years, but he became as fluent as the villagers. He wrote the words down phonetically -- the first time the language had ever been written down. Before that, the villagers had no concept of what writing was. They had to learn how to hold a pencil."

Piovesan's decision to become a doctor began in the same jungle village. He went along when Rev. Piovesan was called out on emergencies. His father used first-aid training and penicillin "to do what he could," and when the medical problem was serious, he made a radio call for air evacuation. That often meant carrying the patient on an hour-long hike to the air strip.

A friend of his brother died of measles. His own best friend died from head injuries after a tree branch fell on him. "It opened my eyes to the real need there," Piovesan says. "That's when I knew I wanted to be a missionary doctor."

After earning a B.A. degree in biology from Cedarville College, Piovesan entered medical school at Wright State on an Air Force scholarship. In July he begins Wright State's five-year general surgery residency at Wright-Patterson AFB Medical Center. Following his Air Force service, he plans to fulfill his calling to be a missionary.

"That's why I went to New Guinea this time. I knew I had to keep the vision and fire alive. I needed to go back and see the people again and remind myself of the need," Piovesan says.

Nathan Piovesan won the Dean's Award at Wright State School of Medicine's graduation. The award is presented annually to a graduate who exemplifies the goals of the School of Medicine and has made significant contributions to the school.

"Growing up in Papua New Guinea instilled in Nathan, at a young age, the necessity and benefits of hard work, discipline, determination, perseverance, and team work," said Howard Part, M.D., Wright State dean of medicine, in presenting the award. "Nathan is committed to pursuing excellence in surgical training and to advancing quality of life."

Last edited on 04/09/2015.