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Stanford residents share stories from volunteering abroad

johnson-052311.jpg [UPDATE: This entry has been corrected from a previous version, which incorrectly stated how many years Stanford residents have participated in the Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Scholars Program.]

For the past three decades, residents from the United States have been providing medical services to underserved communities in Haiti, South Africa, Uganda, Liberia and Indonesia through the Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Scholars Program. The program was created by Michele Barry, MD, senior associate dean for global health and director of the Center for Global Health at Stanford, and colleague Frank Bia, MD, at Yale to help build medical capacity in resource-poor countries and enhance medical education in the United States.

The founding of the program and insights gained by recent participants while working abroad are chronicled in a story published today in Inside Stanford Medicine. Tom Nguyen, MD, who is pictured above performing surgery, recently volunteered in Eritrea had a particularly powerful experience:

During his six-week stint, he performed about 90 operations, many of them lifesaving, on patients needing amputations, bowel repair or tumor removal, among other things. He performed the country’s first arteriovenous fistula, in which an artery and vein in the arm are sewn together to provide an easy access point for patients on dialysis. He had to rely on his good judgment in treating patients, as there was no pathology laboratory or any radiology services to confirm diagnoses.

For cancer patients, “You just go in, take the soft tissue mass out and call it a day,” he said. “Sometimes I’d try to find out what the tumor was. It was almost irrelevant because it wouldn’t change the management plan. They didn’t have chemotherapy or radiation therapy available. It was just an eye-opening experience.”

Often, he said, he’d operate without an anesthesiologist present, because there was only one available at his host hospital in Asmara, the country’s capital.

Nguyen said his time in Eritrea was "life-changing and changed the way I approach medicine." As a result, he plans to continue to participate in international relief missions.

Previously: Ethics for medical students and researchers overseas: A talk by Michele Barry and Stanford researchers receive funding to improve medical education in Zimbabwe
Photo courtesy of Tom Nguyen

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