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OB/GYN Residents Broaden Skills While Serving Guatemalan Women in Need
Robert Elder, MD, Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and his surgical team recently spent five days completing 26 major gynecologic surgeries at Clinica Ezell in Guatemala, where he has led a mission trip to serve women with serious medical needs for the past six years. Dr. Elder serves on the board of directors of Health Talents International, which built Clinica Ezell, a modern surgical building and dormitory, in 2001.
Each year, except one, an OB/GYN resident has traveled with Dr. Elder, using vacation time to complete an international elective. Residents say this elective gives them increased surgical experience not often gained in the U.S. and instills in them a sense of volunteerism and service. This year, third-year resident Kristen Sorenson, MD, joined Dr. Elder's mission team.
"I have a passion to serve underprivileged people in a mission role," Dr. Sorenson said. "A lot of the women we helped in Guatemala have medical conditions that cause serious quality of life issues. Had we not been there, they may not have otherwise had access to these surgeries. And the patients were all extremely grateful, which is truly rewarding."
One case that had a great impact on Dr. Sorensen involved a woman suffering from prolapse, a condition that involves weakening in the muscles and ligaments that support the pelvic organs, often causing considerable discomfort. A recent accident left the woman's husband a quadriplegic. Constant lifting of her husband likely contributed to the woman's condition, which made it more difficult for her to take care of the couple's six children. Surgery by Dr. Sorensen and her team corrected the prolapse.
Lisa Buckingham, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology Resident Alumnus, joined the mission team for her second time this year. As a chief resident last year, Dr. Buckingham participated in the international elective and then completed a study based on her experience, "Crossing Borders to Improve OB/GYN Resident Surgical Education."
For her study, Dr. Buckingham compared the number of surgical procedures performed in a week by her and the four previous residents who had participated in the international elective in Guatemala to an average week of gynecologic services performed at their home institution. Dr. Buckingham found that on average, residents were exposed to 12 hysterectomies during a week in Guatemala compared to only one per week at home. Dr. Buckingham said the discrepancy is due to healthcare reform, work hour restrictions and advancing technologies and by participating in the international elective, residents were able to broaden their skill sets while being exposed to global health issues.
Dr. Buckinghgam continues to find her mission work beneficial to her career in private practice. She said, "I think the most important thing about my experience in Guatemala is that it takes me back to why I became a physician in the first place, to help people. When all of the problems with politics and insurance and money are taken out of the mix, you are left with a group of people who truly need our help and are exceedingly grateful for any help we can give them. It is such an uplifting experience and can help reinvigorate you for your work at home.
"I have also been lucky enough to share this experience with my mom who helps as a translator. We are both planning on going again next year."
|Graduate School of Medicine
University of Tennessee