A Conversation with Ami Waters | See previous interviews

Ami Waters
Clinical Fellow

Ami Waters

Tell me about your family, please.

I was born in Houston and my family moved to a small town north of Austin, Georgetown, when I was five or six. My twin sister still lives in Texas. She is a Palliative Care and Pediatrics Bone Transplant Nurse Practitioner at the Children's Hospital at Southwestern University of Dallas. We are fraternal twins, but people say we look alike and that we are similar in personality. We are the first people in health care in our family. My dad was a telephone lineman and my mom is still a realtor. My mom's side of the family is Cajun and we have always had our large extended family live around or with us. My cousins are like brothers and sisters.

Has your family been supportive of your path?

I was the first to leave Texas and the idea of global health, living far away from family, was a big adjustment for everyone. It has been a journey for them. They were always supportive of me but that doesn't necessarily mean supportive of my path. It was probably hardest on my mom, who I think at first felt that I was choosing not to be part of family, but over time she started to see that maybe it was what supported and grounded me, knowing I have something to return to. Because of the way that she welcomed people into our home, she taught me that community is much greater than just those you are born into and it is therefore a small step to say that those who live in other countries may also be connected. My dad, who grew up all around the United States, guessed long ago that both my sister and I have an interest in other cultures and a little bit of a roving spirit.

Ami and group

Of all of the areas of medicine that you could have gone into, why Global Health?

I've wanted to be a doctor since I was very young and, like my sister, thought I would go into pediatric oncology. I had a desire to work in a field where relationships were built. In between college and medical school, I worked at an AIDS hospice in Austin and really came to love my patients and the medicine itself. Then I went to Botswana to work at an HIV hospice and I had so many questions, having seen many inequities in care. I went back and forth to the same hospice in Botswana in medical school and residency, and it opened my eyes to the unique challenges of healthcare outside of the United States. I recognized my own limitations and I wanted to be able to return one day and offer more. That led me to the fellowship where Sri and Phuoc identified the gap between will and skill to do this type of work. I am still searching but it isn't that different from what I wanted long ago: to build relationships. I may always be somewhat of an outsider in this work but, by showing up, feel that we can create impact.

Ami and group

What is the first thing you notice in a new environment?

I sense the spirit of the people I am meeting for the first time and try to read openness, maybe hesitancy, or a willingness to engage. Although I am an outgoing person, my first impressions are just observations so that I can gauge how to proceed. Sometimes it is very obvious that a relationship might take time, but sometimes you are very quickly embraced. That is something very beautiful about the Liberian people: they are very quick to call you friend, they are forgiving when you leave and return, they easily re-engage with you, and they stay in touch. It would be hard for me to do the work if I didn't have the sense of building community that feels as if it could be home.

Paul Theroux said, "My greatest inspiration is memory." How do your memories serve you?

I am a really nostalgic person and, when I look back at my childhood, I hold on to certain senses—smells, tastes, feelings, and sights—that bring back memories of places, of happiness and sadness, and of people. When I feel a little lost or far away, these memories that are stirred up ground me, reminding me of the people and experiences that inspired me to do this work from the beginning.

Your published writing about your experiences is evocative and inspiring, and I get the sense of a woman of faith or spirituality. How important is writing?

Truthfully, I started writing at the encouragement of Phuoc and Sri. It isn't something that I naturally do. It is raw and hard and humbling to put into words experiences that I feel or that have required processing. It is something that I have appreciated about the fellowship, not only the hard work, but how can you do this work and advocate and translate your experiences into ways that give voice to others who have no voice. Giving voice to others, telling their stories, is something I do hope to do.

What do you miss most about home when you are away and, when you return, what is the first thing you want or do?

I really miss Mexican food! And, being able to cook. The first two times in Liberia, I used a coal pot stove and even tried to bake banana bread on it, but I really missed an oven. I enjoy cooking for others, definitely something from my Cajun background, where community is centered around food. We finally got a small oven in Liberia and, the last two weeks I was there, I tried to recreate Southern favorites like fried chicken and mashed potatoes. What I miss is anything that connects me to the people that I love and I try everything to connect my worlds. (Check out the Waters' family recipes.)

Share an anecdote about your best, or worst, habit.

I really like to be close to people and don't have much of a territorial bubble. This might be from being a twin and sharing a womb for nine months or having a large extended family, so I am comfortable being up close and personal. I think nothing of someone having something in their tooth and just reaching out to fix it. One time I got really cold in the line at the grocery store and started cuddling up with the old lady in front of me, who'd never met me before. I think that is both my best and worst habit. I am blessed that the Liberians are a very affectionate and tactual people; you don't just get a hug, you get double hugs!

Are there sounds you particularly like or dislike?

I am sensitive to some sounds, and loud repetitive noise is difficult for me to be around, so something like construction can be overwhelming. But I love waking up to a full house of voices. It's one of my favorite things to hear people interacting for the day and already be communing. Those voices mean, "oh, the day has started and it's time to join!"

What three adjectives would your twin use to describe you?

Passionate. Determined. Generous.

What's next?

I have accepted a position that I might not have thought possible had I not done this fellowship. I think it shows that the model of hospitalists joined with global health is sustainable and that there are ways to stay involved with academic medicine. I will be doing 25% pediatrics, 25% internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. They will support 10% global health and I will continue to work for six months a year in Liberia as Deputy Medical Director with Last Mile Health. And, I will be working at the same hospital as my twin sister.

Ami and family

Ami, this was my pleasure—thank you.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Ami's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews