Educating surgeons has been a life-long endeavor for AAMC’s Chair of the Department of Surgery Adrian Park, MD. So when he discovered an organization that focuses on teaching surgeons in Africa, he knew he’d found his calling. Having spent his middle school and high school years in Africa, Dr. Park has a fondness for the continent and a deep appreciation for the challenges of establishing quality surgical care in some of the world’s poorest and most remote locations.
As a member of the Pan African Association of Christian Surgeons (PAACS), Dr. Park has spent more than 15 years helping to develop high-quality, rigorous surgical residency programs to train African surgeons in more than a half dozen countries. “Our surgical residency training programs are five year programs, with all of the validations and certifications that train African surgeons with standards that we’d expect back here,” Dr. Park says.
Often, when young African men and women come to the West to train, they either stay or they return to the capital city in their home country which serves only a select population. This leaves the more remote areas of Africa without adequate surgical care. The residency programs Dr. Park is helping to build are training Africans in Africa where they will be able to serve their countrymen who need them most.
As the current president of PAACS, Dr. Park says the most inspiring moments have been those spent with the African doctors he trains. “Some of them have had to literally take their families across countries, through jungles and civil wars at risk of life and limb to get this training. By the time they come to us, they’ve been through so much. English may be their fourth or fifth language. Imagine learning medicine in your fourth or fifth language,” remarks Dr. Park.
Dr. Park says they’ve established 11 programs in countries such as Gabon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Niger. They plan to graduate more than 20 surgeons a year by 2025 or 2030. That’s a large number since some sub-Saharan countries currently have fewer than 20 general surgeons in total.
Dr. Park says that his experience with PAACS has been the ultimate expression of the “teaching a man to fish” parable. “Developing these training programs has a sustainable effect on the access to and the delivery of quality surgical care in the most remote and underserved parts of Africa,”Dr. Park says.