(Image courtesy of UNMC)
Even in high school, Dr. Debra Romberger knew that she liked both science and people. She started college thinking that working in a laboratory setting would be a good fit for her, but she quickly realized that working in an environment where she could interact with people would be a better fit, so she decided to go to medical school to become a physician.
“Whether I chose that or it chose me, I’m not sure,” she said. “I like what I do.”
Now, Dr. Romberger’s career at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) has spanned nearly three decades. She joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1990, then she was promoted to associate professor in 1998 and to professor in 2005. Now, she is the chair of the department of internal medicine, and she serves as a member of the advisory board that oversees Nebraska Medicine. Dr. Romberger is also an internationally recognized researcher. She has received 35 research grants, and she has authored 130 scientific articles and 17 book chapters and reviews.
Though Dr. Romberger has a busy schedule, she manages to find time to serve the Omaha community. She is on the board for the Josie Harper Hospice House, and she is a former board member of Ted E. Bear Hollow. She has also faithfully volunteered at OneWorld’s tuberculosis (TB) clinic on the second Tuesday of every month since 1995. She says her monthly OneWorld shift has been on her calendar for a long time, so it’s not difficult for her to make time to volunteer.
“When I first started volunteering at OneWorld, it wasn’t even OneWorld; it was the Indian-Chicano Health Center on 24th St.,” she said. “It was a little tiny place, and they had volunteer physicians who would come in the evening to help patients…They have grown tremendously since I have been affiliated with it…Now, with all the satellite sites, it’s just amazing to me. I’m so very impressed with the leadership of OneWorld.”
At the TB clinic, Dr. Romberger works with OneWorld clinicians and other volunteers to see patients who have been identified as having positive skin tests for TB. She says clinicians typically work with latent TB cases—rarely active TB cases.
“We see patients, make recommendations, check on them if they’re taking drugs—that sort of thing,” she said.
According to Dr. Romberger, the OneWorld TB clinic has historically been a place where volunteer physicians and OneWorld staff members can provide clinical experience for students.
“There have been other volunteers at the TB clinic who have been realty faithful,” she said. There are lots of good people who come to volunteer…we’ve used it as an opportunity to teach various kinds of students…to give them that experience in the clinic.”
Dr. Romberger says she feels very blessed to have had the opportunity to have an education and pursue medicine as a career, so volunteering is important to her because it is allows her to give back to the community.
“I enjoy volunteering at OneWorld because it’s good to get exposure to a diverse patient population,” she said. “I see that some in my own practice, but you learn from the patients, and you learn from their situations, and you feel like you’re helping them in some small way…The health of the community is based on relationships and people helping one another out.”