Global Engagement

As Michigan surgeons, we’re problem-solvers, investigators, and innovators — and with our work in healthcare abroad, we’re expanding the scale of challenges and opportunities to a global one.

Today, faculty and trainees in the U-M Department of Surgery engage in global health projects in 6 countries and 4 continents. These efforts include clinical missions to deliver specialty care such as cleft lip and palate repair, collaborative quality improvement projects, resident training opportunities in rural and tertiary referral centers, and research collaborations with sister institutions. U-M surgeons also serve as faculty leaders for the Medical School’s Global Reach program, focusing on international collaboration in the health sciences.

Guided by the concept of “convergence science,” we feel a strong sense of urgency to build partnerships internationally that will introduce surgeons and surgical residents to new knowledge and approaches — because big leaps come from new settings and ideas.

By joining with institutes abroad, we can develop long-term relationships that improve quality and delivery of care, creating a positive ripple effect for communities in China, India, Colombia, Ethiopia and others — as well as the chance for new scientific collaboration and discovery.

A snapshot of our recent work and its impact:

Clinical Care

When we travel to other countries to perform clinical care, we’re focused on saving lives while at the same time creating the local systems that will allow this work to continue. 

In Colombia, we’ve completed more than 15 medical missions, treating more than 750 children with limited access to care, while also sharing expertise with surgeons at our partner hospital, Hospital Infantil Napólean Franco Pareja (Casa del Niño) in Cartagena.

U-M plastic surgeon Dr. Robert H. Gilman explains how mission trips make him a better provider:

“Though I have always had a great deal of respect for all my patients, … my perspective has broadened. I’m more aware of things that we otherwise take for granted. We are privileged to work in an environment conducive to the practice of good medicine. Operating with fewer resources in Colombia has made me a more flexible and capable surgeon. It’s a good lesson for all of us who should be able to offer great care under a variety of different conditions.”

In Ethiopia, we led a team to perform the first kidney transplants in the country — the first big milestone in a multi-year effort to establish a transplant center in the East African country. Looking toward the future, this collaboration develops in-country expertise and capacity in the capital city Addis Ababa, including a specialty center with dedicated adjacent operating rooms for transplant donors and recipients. U-M transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffrey D. Punch says:

“The real winners are the patients with kidney disease who up until now have had no treatment option other than the very expensive dialysis that some just can’t afford.”

Training Opportunities

In building relationships with all our partner institutions, we create opportunities to learn from and with each other.

In Vietnam, U-M surgeons trained local doctors in hand reconstruction as part of the efforts of nonprofit ReSurge, which works to increase surgical capabilities in developing countries. Dr. Kevin Chung, chief of hand surgery at U-M, has worked with the organization for more than a decade, and hosted similar workshops in Ghana, Ecuador, Honduras, Nepal, and Cambodia.

Dr. Matthew Brown, a U-M hand surgery fellow, describes the energy of the experience:

“I had done some international trips, but nothing at all like this. It was quite a shock to perform surgery with 30 or 40 people watching. I’ve never seen a group of physicians more interested. Every operating room we worked in was packed, and afterward they asked great questions.”

In China, a longstanding partnership with Tongji Hospital in Wuhan provides an ACGME-approved rotation for a first-year pediatric surgery resident. Tongji is one of China’s busiest children’s hospitals — an excellent training ground that provides for a two-way exchange of knowledge.

Policy & Research

Joining forces internationally to conduct research and health policy work allows teams to investigate global problems from multiple perspectives.

In China, a team led by Dr. Michael W. Mulholland collaborates with the Peking University Health Science Center to study the gastric regulation on food intake and metabolism. This research has resulted in funding from major Chinese funding agencies, and the publication of more than a dozen papers.

In Taiwan, a study conducted by U-M and Taiwanese physicians showed how crisis planning saved lives during an amusement park fire that injured nearly 500 people — some who suffered burns across more than 50 percent of their bodies. The results, published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, represents the first project in a recent partnership between U-M and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taiwan’s largest hospital system.

U-M surgeon and senior author Dr. Kevin Chung explains how the analysis brought together expertise from both countries:

“We wanted to share a collective understanding of a unique situation. Hopefully the world can learn from this experience and be better prepared to handle the next mass trauma situation.”

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