By Joe Lippi, Director of Medical Programs and Impact
In Malawi, I was told by several surgeons that just getting into the operating theater was their major challenge. That surprisingly general statement meant very little to me when Dr. Jonathan Rausky (volunteer plastic surgeon), Dr. Steve Parker (volunteer anesthesiologist) and I arrived in Lilongwe for a one-week visiting educator trip in burn surgery. However, as the week progressed I began to see the complexities of the environment in which we were working and, indeed, to understand how true that statement was.
If one of the elements of running a hospital breaks down—be it infrastructure, human resources, medical records or administration—the system is disrupted and one doesn’t get into the OR. In Malawi, we learned how delicate this balance was, and our volunteers experienced first-hand the challenges that are presented when parts of the system break down.
But a ReSurge visiting educator trip is by design very different than our surgical team trips.
The intention of these trips is to integrate into the existing health system and to work hand-in-hand with local staff to provide high-quality patient care while teaching at every possible moment—formally and informally. Of course, at times this comes with challenges, but from these challenges we learn the most about what else needs to be done. Our expert volunteers worked with their Malawian medical counterparts to identify gaps in knowledge and experience and worked to fill those gaps with teaching, discussions and targeted lectures.
By all of these measures, the visiting educator trip to Malawi was a resounding success. Together with local surgical, anesthesia and nursing staff, Drs. Parker and Rausky released a debilitating burn scar contracture to the neck of a six-year-old girl who had waited years for surgery. They repaired a total facial and wrist burn contracture on a 2-year-old girl.
Dr. Rausky gave lectures to surgical residents and clinical officers on how to perform a Z-plasty procedure. And Dr. Parker gave a lecture to the anesthesia team on burn-related complications for anesthesia.
Our volunteers integrated into the system, and the challenges they faced were those that medical personnel there struggle with every day. That insight—that ability to understand even just a little bit better where the system breaks and how ReSurge might be able to help in some way to improve medical access—is incredibly valuable. I left Malawi content with the work that had been done and highly motivated to work on ways to improve on it in the future.
Photos by Joe Lippi