From Kenya to Scottsdale: How 10 Years in Africa Changed the Way I Practice Orthopedic Surgery TodayFrom Kenya to Scottsdale: How 10 Years in Africa Changed the Way I Practice Orthopedic Surgery Today https://phoenixspineandjoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/banner-1.png 1024 535 Phoenix Spine & Joint Phoenix Spine & Joint https://phoenixspineandjoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/banner-1.png
After I finished my Orthopedic Surgery Residency Training at the Mayo Clinic in 2008, I decided it was important for me to serve in an underprivileged community. That community turned out to be in Africa, at Tenwek Hospital, a rural 350 bed facility in the beautiful tea-growing highlands of western Kenya. Now that I am back in the United States and specializing in hip, knee and shoulder replacement surgery in Scottsdale, I want to share what I learned in Africa, and how that experience affects my current practice.
I first became interested in volunteering in Kenya after I read about the shortage of surgeons in the country. When I arrived, I was the only orthopedic surgeon serving a population of 8 million around Tenwek Hospital, about twice the population of Arizona. I saw immediately that my skills were needed. However, after seeing the dire need for medical assistance and the difference I was making, I decided to extend my stay. Two years turned into a whole decade.
One of the most significant challenges to practicing in Kenya is the issue of resourcefulness. In Kenya, medical supplies and equipment are often scarce, and doctors must find innovative ways to treat patients with what is readily available. I became skilled at improvising and finding creative solutions to medical problems. For example, I had a patient with a bent rod in his femur which needed to be removed, and the only way was to cut the rod in the middle with a massive bolt cutter which I purchased locally and sterilized before the case.
Another lesson that I learned is the importance of patient education. In Kenya, many people are not familiar with modern medical practices we take for granted in the West. For example, they may not understand the importance of following a treatment plan or even taking medication as prescribed. I had to learn to explain complex medical concepts in a way that was easy for patients to understand, in both English and Swahili.
My faith has always been a cornerstone in my life. And in Africa, I saw the importance of faith in healthcare. Medical care in Kenya is often provided by community faith workers, who are trained meet basic needs and to educate their neighbors. I worked closely with these amazing people, and I saw firsthand how important faith is to the healthcare system. I came away realizing that for me, it is not possible to separate physical healing from emotional, social and spiritual healing.
“Scottsdale is a very different place than Nairobi. However, the power of compassion and commitment to make a difference, values which I learned in Kenya, truly apply to my own practice in Scottsdale.”
After ten years overseas in Kenya, as my own family grew (7 kids!), my wife and I saw it was time to return home. To update my skills as an orthopedic surgeon, I completed a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona in Joint Replacement Surgery. Many of the techniques I learned in fellowship were not even invented when I left for Africa such as robotic assisted total joint replacement.
Scottsdale is a very different place than Nairobi. However, the power of compassion and commitment to make a difference, values which I learned in Kenya, truly apply to my own practice in Scottsdale. I have become more resourceful, finding creative solutions to medical problems that are often faced by patients in the United States. I have also become more adept at patient education, making sure that my patients understand their medical conditions and treatment options. Finally, I have become more involved in my community, working with local healthcare providers, physical therapists, chiropractors, and other healthcare workers to provide the best possible care to my patients.
And I am not done learning or giving back. I recently spent two weeks in Kenya teaching at a surgical conference and volunteering at the hospitals where I used to work. While my practice is here in Scottsdale, I continue to train Kenyan surgeons to take over the work in their own communities of countless underserved people.
Dan Galat, MD
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