Skip to content

Teaching surgeons new skills for medical missions

Surgeons practice drilling burr holes during Stanford course

Sherry Wren, MD, a general surgeon at Stanford, has volunteered multiple times for humanitarian missions in Africa with Doctors Without Borders. There, she has treated patients for everything from head traumas to difficult births to gunshot wounds; in the process, she has learned to use hand drills for brain surgery and papaya paste as a salve for severe burns, as well as how to serve as her own anesthesiologist while operating on a patient.

This month, Wren taught a continuing medical education course at Stanford to pass along the skills she learned from these first-hand experience to other surgeons and physicians interested in volunteering for similar medical missions. She recruited experts in neurosurgery, ob/gyn, and other fields to help teach the course, and she drew a large and appreciative crowd of students.

In today’s issue of Inside Stanford Medicine, I describe the course (which she calls a "labor of love"), Wren's "MacGyver-like skills," and her ability to "make do" with whichever supplies are available:

Developing countries may not have well-stocked supply closets; there may be no blood bank nearby; anesthesia may be limited; sonograms may be nonexistent.

"We wanted to make physicians understand that it’s all about somehow ‘making it work,' Wren said. 'You survive on your wits, making do with what’s on hand."


The course itself was something of a lesson in MacGyver-like inventiveness. Students used pigs’ feet to practice ligament repair. Breech births were simulated from sleeping bags. An orthopaedic company donated thousands of dollars worth of fake bones; hand drills ordered online were used for bone-drilling practice.

Previously: What I did this summer: Stanford medical student works to improve pediatric surgical care in Tanzania
Photo by Sherry Wren

Popular posts