My friend and colleague Dr. Ray Imatani is passionate about surgeon-led Humanitarian Missions, so I wanted to share his request directly with the SurgeonMasters Community. Although this particular plea from Dr. Imatani is addressed directly to Orthopaedic Surgeons, I know you will all benefit from his inspiring words. And, remember, the need for our skills and specialties is truly unending! Hope you feel inspired!
PRACTICE Your Best!
Jeff Smith, MD
The Need for Orthopaedic Trauma Care
Across the world, there's a need for orthopaedic trauma care, and nowhere is that need more pronounced than in developing nations that are incapable of offering medical care to the standard we enjoy here in the United States. A standard we take for granted all too often.
This is a need I have seen first-hand.
During the last decade, I’ve gone on four extended missions to different developing nations as a member of organizations seeking to improve the health and welfare of impoverished peoples.
The experiences I’ve enjoyed during these missions merely affirm my resounding belief that our obligation as first-world physicians is to make a more-focused effort at improving the standard of orthopaedic care in places as far away as Chad and Madagascar, and as close as Haiti and Mexico.
Treating Trauma in the Third World
It is in nations like these where the inability to treat trauma—predominantly the result of road traffic accidents—is a significant cause of death and disability. No one—not politicians, not aid workers, not wealthy benefactors—is better suited to address this inability head-on (pardon the pun) than orthopaedists, specifically tenured surgeons who honed their skills in a time of more rudimentary surgical technology. (Not that the help of more junior orthopaedists and surgeons wouldn’t be valuable or appreciated!)
Senior orthopaedic surgeons have hands-on experience in the treatment of major traumatic injury with minimal technology and minimal support, which is the standard operating environment in most developing nations.
But these missions are about more than the work that’s done for the patients.
In fact, some of my most rewarding experiences have been derived from working with and teaching the native orthopaedic physicians who will eventually be tasked with taking over surgical procedures for the local community.
Advice for Getting Involved
A few words of advice for those of you looking to get involved…
Find a country that uses English as the primary medical language, and plan on making a two to four-week commitment of your time.
If you’re unsure about next steps, there are several organizations you can partner with, including Doctors Without Borders and Health Volunteers Overseas. These groups are adept at helping doctors find the right trip—a trip that meets your expectations in both commitment and exposure to risk (some of the volunteer opportunities will be in areas of high-danger—think Syria).
Remember, trauma, not arthritis, is the epidemic, and no surgeon should consider their career complete without participating in at least one overseas mission to an impoverished nation.
The world desperately needs the help of talented orthopaedic surgeons like us. Help, not solely in the form of money or equipment, but in the form of surgical expertise that can be delivered in both the operating room and in the classroom of impoverished and developing nations.