When the opportunity to go to Africa came up, Priscilla Gaskins and Jennifer Howe gladly accepted it. The pair has worked closely with Doylestown Health urologist Albert Ruenes, Jr., MD for about 10 years. During that time, they heard him discuss his work in West Africa teaching surgeons important techniques and opening a community health clinic.
Priscilla and Jennifer were the first of Dr. Ruenes' Doylestown Hospital co-workers to travel with him to Senegal earlier this year to share their knowledge about current best practices in the operating room.
"It was amazing to have that opportunity," said Jennifer, an OR nurse and clinical coordinator for Urology.
Priscilla, an OR materials coordinator and surgical tech, agreed. "I'm so grateful to have had that experience."
Meeting a need in West Africa
Fifteen years ago, Dr. Ruenes began travelling twice each year to Senegal to teach African physicians how to surgically treat prostate cancer since they do not have access to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Dr. Ruenes founded the nonprofit organization ASSISTS (American-Senegal Surgical Initiative, Surgeons Teaching Surgeons) to provide African surgeons training in order to treat medical conditions prevalent in West Africa.
Two years ago, he helped open a community health clinic in Yeumbeul, a town about 15 miles outside of Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
Dr. Ruenes had wanted to bring some of his Doylestown Health colleagues to West Africa for some time.
"I thought it would be a really nice thing to extend diplomacy between Doylestown Hospital and my work there," he said.
Jennifer and Priscilla visited the clinic, which they described as "awesome."
"They provide so much care there," said Priscilla. "Before the clinic opened, they had to travel really far for care."
The power of knowledge
Early on in their stay, Priscilla and Jennifer did a presentation on OR safety to an audience of mainly physicians at the West Africa College of Surgeons' 59th annual scientific conference in Dakar. The professional regional organization represents 22 countries and has a membership of more than 2,000 surgeons.
"They were very receptive to our presentation and very interested in what we had to say," Jennifer said.
For the remainder of the trip they participated in surgeries at two different government hospitals in Dakar. Operating rooms at these hospitals often lack specialized nurses who can assist the surgeon with a procedure and maintain the sterile field. The goal was to teach the nursing staff the importance of counting all surgical instruments, sponges and needles before and after a procedure, and how a team works during a surgery.
"They were all so thankful for what we were showing them," said Priscilla. "They are very receptive to making these changes."
Seeing the differences between their home hospital and those in Dakar had a profound effect on the women.
"I looked at it as life changing in the way I think day to day," said Jennifer.
Continuing the work
In the near future, Dr. Ruenes plans to open an OR at the Yeumbeul clinic. There, a staff surgeon can perform basic urologic procedures as well as things like hernia repairs, appendectomies and C-sections. Sponge and instrument counts will be mandatory, noted Dr. Ruenes.
Plans are also in the works for dorm-style rooms on the third floor to house visiting health professionals.
"I hope to bring more Doylestown Hospital associates, particularly when the third floor is built," said Dr. Ruenes.
Jennifer said she hopes to continue communicating with one of the Dakar hospitals to continue providing education and feedback.
"I think change can happen with baby steps," said Jennifer. "We are hoping that surgical counts will be the first step. Education – that's the thing."
"Education is the key," added Dr. Ruenes. "Through the educational piece we can establish now the very beginnings of what we're trying to accomplish over there. It will be an incredibly valuable experience."
About Doylestown Health
Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 247 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.