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Posted By: Matt Peterson on April 16, 2012

Labels: Liberia , Volunteers

As part of National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting one of our many outstanding volunteers each day this week! 

Meet Dr. Benedict Nwomeh

National Volunteer Week

From Westerville, Ohio, Dr. Benedict Nwomeh is an Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery, an Associate Director of the Pediatric Surgery Training Program at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and also the Director of Surgical Education in the Department of Pediatric Surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.Originally, Dr. Nwomeh was born in Nigeria and trained as a surgeon in Britain and the United States.Recently, he volunteered as part of an 11-person Project HOPE team that deployed to Liberia to provide medical training and care.

The team conducted two full days of surgery at the Phebe hospital, outside of the capital of Monrovia. With only two operating rooms, the surgical team doubled up to perform every procedure requested by the medical director,  Dr. Jefferson Sibley.  The most frequent procedure performed was the thyroidectomy. Thyroid enlargement, also known as a goiter, is endemic to Liberia, and the swelling compressing the airway and the esophagus make it difficult to breathe properly and swallow food.  The team was able to help many of these patients.

Following this outreach effort, Dr. Nwomeh and the team returned to Monrovia for several educational and training events, coordinated during the annual West African College of Surgeons conference at the Samuel Doe Stadium. This training included trauma education, research training and a career development course for aspiring Liberian medical students, and a symposium on how to improve surgical training in West Africa. The most consequential event was the medical school student mentorship.  With more than 100 students filling the auditorium, Dr. Nwomeh and the team began by asking their future career intentions. Only three students indicated a desire to pursue surgical training, which is virtually non-existent in Liberia. By the end of the workshop, nearly a third were influenced to now consider surgery as their primary goal.

Liberia Volunteer Surgeons

“I have known about the great work Project HOPE does to promote global health, particularly their massive effort in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti,” says Dr. Nwomeh . “Furthermore, I learned that Project HOPE’s goals nicely jibe with my own work in global surgery, which primarily focuses on expanding surgical training opportunities, creating partnerships, and building surgical capacity in low and middle Income countries. My personal goal for this trip was to assess opportunities for helping to build surgical capacity in Liberia, which has only two fully working indigenous surgeons for a population of four million people. The unparalleled professionalism of the Project HOPE team that supported our mission was an eye-opener to the possibilities for improving surgical care in Liberia.Project HOPE has developed highly successful programs in the areas of tertiary care medical education, health professional continuing education, and particularly their “train the trainer” methodology. I see an enormous potential to utilize these tools to create a more robust health workforce for Liberia, particularly with regards to improving surgical care.” 

For Dr. Nwomeh, the mission fulfilled a strong personal calling to leverage skills and experience learned in one of the world's most advanced health systems for the benefit of a nation lacking many basic services. His background in Africa also prepared him for the testing environment he faced, laden with personal and professional challenges. He believes that Liberia will only succeed when well-trained Liberian doctors, women and midwives are given the skills and resources they need to help their own people.

“I could identify with the level of poverty, limited education, and poor health services in Liberia.  For me, this trip exposed the great void in surgical care available to the Liberian people.  I left Phebe burdened by a sense of an unfulfilled mission,” says Dr. Nwomeh.   “I think Dr. Sibley was correct – that our mission will be incomplete until we are able to return and help build sustainable surgical capacity in Liberia. This speaks to Project HOPE’s core mission.  The challenge is daunting but I believe it can be met only through education and training of an indigenous Liberian workforce.”

Thanks Dr. Nwomeh

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