A middle-aged woman about to embark on a daunting business trip to France, a recent college graduate preparing to trek the Great Wall of China with his friends, a young man flying home to visit his family in India — these are just a few examples of the kind of situations that nurse practitioner Catherine Franklin, NP, DNP, encounters every week at the Brigham’s Travel Clinic.
Located in its new location in Lung Center C at 15 Francis St. and operated by the Division of Infectious Diseases for more than a decade, the Travel Clinic provides vaccinations, prescriptions and practical travel advice to adult patients as they prepare for their next adventure.
“It’s really exciting to be with people who are planning the trip of a lifetime or reuniting with family,” said Franklin, who began working at the Travel Clinic in 2019. “A lot of what we do in Infectious Diseases is care for people who are sick, and this is typically a joyful visit.”
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the clinic was open three to four days a week but temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic due to safety concerns and the rigid travel restrictions. As people now become more comfortable traveling again, Franklin said there has been a recent rise in the number of patients reaching out for appointments — some celebrating the lift of COVID-related travel bans with spontaneous vacations, visiting family they have been separated from since the onset of the pandemic, and others preparing for now approved international business trips.
“It is interesting that, since we have reopened, many people are planning African safari vacations,” said Franklin.
The Travel Clinic is now staffed weekly by Franklin, who also serves as the nurse practitioner team manager for Infectious Diseases, and Alex Cellucci, LPN, a float licensed practical nurse who supports several specialty clinics.
Cellucci administers each of the recommended vaccines, monitors patients for potential reactions, updates their documentation and answers any additional questions they may have.
“I enjoy helping our patients feel equipped, educated and supported so that they can feel confident and safe traveling,” she said. “We’re also protecting our community here by ensuring travelers are not bringing back a disease we wouldn’t otherwise see in this area.”
Protecting Travelers from Hidden Health Risks
The Travel Clinic strives to help patients embarking on their journeys to prepare for any potential health risks, including insect-borne diseases, food- and beverage-borne diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, sun poisoning, traveler’s thrombosis and now COVID-19.
Fortunately, the Travel Clinic offers patients protective measures against all of these and more, including immunizations for typhoid fever, hepatitis A, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and rabies.
“Whether you’re planning a cruise down the Amazon, an African safari, a trek in the Himalayas or something more prosaic, the Travel Clinic stands ready to assess your health needs and provide recommendations regarding any necessary vaccinations, medications and other common-sense measures to protect you during your trip,” said Daniel Kuritzkes, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.
To ensure the highest form of protection, Franklin said that patients are encouraged to schedule appointments at the Travel Clinic at least two to four weeks in advance of their departure and to come prepared with their vaccine records, an itinerary of their trips and a list of any questions they may have.
Although the Travel Clinic is currently only operating on Monday afternoons, the team anticipates it will expand access to offer appointments multiple days a week, depending on the progression of the pandemic. The clinic also offers counselling services on the latest situation with COVID-19 to educate people on the prevalence of the virus at their destination and the necessary precautions they can take.
‘You Learn About the World’
While many patients come to the Travel Clinic seeking a vaccination, others are solely interested in receiving sound advice, whether it be on airport security, the risk of high altitude or concerns about travelling while pregnant.
“The Travel Clinic has always been important, but I think now, as more people are traveling again as some COVID restrictions have been lifted, we offer a really essential service in being able to talk through all the risks of traveling and to make sure that people are as protected as they can be from preventable illnesses,” said Mary Montgomery, MD, of the Division of Infectious Diseases.
As she delivers this guidance and care, Montgomery said she enjoys the rewarding glimpses into people’s lives, learning about the incredible places they’ve been and the stories they have accumulated along the way.
“It makes me extremely jealous,” Montgomery said with a chuckle. “I’m here in Boston in the winter while patients are preparing to go to Cambodia and Vietnam and Singapore, but I love learning about the travelers and their lives and their interests. Working for the Travel Clinic, you learn about the world.”
“Behind the Scenes at the Brigham” is an ongoing series that provides a glimpse of the people whose everyday contributions help make the Brigham a world-class institution. Is there a team you’d like to see featured? Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.