The “Humanitarian’s Humanitarian”

By: Peter Pollack

Richard A. Gosselin, MD, has devoted his career to providing care in developing countries

Described by his friend and colleague R. Richard Coughlin, MD, MSc, as a “humanitarian’s humanitarian,” with an “unequalled lifetime of work” serving in developing countries, Richard A. Gosselin, MD, received the 2016 AAOS Humanitarian Award yesterday at the AAOS Annual Meeting.

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Outgoing AAOS President David D. Teuscher, MD, presents the 2016 Humanitarian Award to Richard A. Gosselin, MD.

A traveler
“I first went to Africa as a 3rd-year medical student in 1977 and knew right away that was the career path for me,” Dr. Gosselin explained. “After finishing my residency in 1984, I spent a year in Senegal and 6 months each in Paris and San Francisco, where I eventually returned as an attending. Seven years of private practice allowed me to save sufficient funds to formally retire from clinical activities, and I have been doing humanitarian work more or less full-time ever since, most of it as an orthopaedic surgeon but also some of it as a public health consultant.”

Dr. Gosselin is codirector of the University of California, San Francisco-affiliated Institute for Global Orthopedics and Traumatology (IGOT). In addition, he spends 6 to 8 months every year on the road with organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Emergency, Handicap International, Johanniter International, the World Health Organization, and smaller nongovernmental organizations such as Operation Rainbow and the Maheshwar Charitable Foundation.

“All these organizations have different goals and mandates, but share humanitarian relief as a common foundation,” he said.

“Richard is a truly amazing person,” wrote David A. Spiegel, MD, in support of Dr. Gosselin’s nomination, “and I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of this honor. Richard has been involved in humanitarian activities throughout his life and has dedicated the last 15 years exclusively to activities aimed at improving the delivery of orthopaedic surgical services in low- and middle-income countries. These have included direct patient care, teaching and training both in the field and at home, research, and as an advocate for improving orthopaedic surgical care globally.”

Dr. Coughlin noted that Dr. Gosselin travels to locales that cause even other humanitarians to think twice.

“As a former recipient of this most humbling award, I have had the opportunity to work with many orthopaedic surgeons who have given and continue to give completely to the service of others, both domestically and globally,” he wrote. “In the list of most urgent of human needs (Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Syrian border, Haiti, Sierra Leone, and now Libya to name only a few), Dr. Gosselin has answered the call where very few of us would ever dare go. He continues to be the ‘go to’ musculoskeletal consultant for MSF [and many other organizations].”

“[Richard] has travelled more than 60 times to many of the world’s poorest countries, in Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, India, South East Asia, and the Middle East,” agreed Peter G. Trafton, MD, FACS. “Many of his trips have been for several months at a time. They have been to sites of conflict and disaster, as well as other impoverished areas with their endemic musculoskeletal problems, especially road traffic injuries. His many friends in North America are always relieved when he returns safely from yet another exposure to serious risk of personal injury.”

“Very few people are even capable of taking on such intense challenges,” noted Dr. Spiegel, “and even fewer have the experience to excel in this area. [Dr. Gosselin] has also served in disaster relief missions, and was on the ground during the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan.”

A teacher
Dr. Gosselin has made teaching another key aspect of his humanitarian approach, and he says that the academic impact might be the most gratifying focus of his career.

“At IGOT we mentor students, residents, and fellows who have a special interest in global health and surgery, and who have established numerous partnerships with other academic institutions throughout the developing world with a focus on sustainable research and training.”

He said that sustainability of knowledge and training is an important factor in developing nations and describes teaching efforts as a kind of continuing medical education program, with regular bilateral exchanges.

“Sustainability always comes from the teaching/training component to our local counterparts,” he explained. “In the field, this is done hands-on on the ward and in the operating rooms, but also with formal didactic presentations and even seminars. The ICRC gives a very well-organized 3-day seminar on war surgery 6 to 8 times a year, and I usually participate as faculty at a couple of those. Academic sustainability is actually easier to achieve and maintain, as long as both parties have the same motivation and interest.”

“[Dr. Gosselin] is a revered teacher of musculoskeletal surgery,” wrote Dr. Trafton, “not only within lower and middle income countries, but also for his residents, fellows, and faculty colleagues in North America, many of whom follow his example and take up the challenges of patient care, teaching, and research in austere areas. He is humble, patient, and attentive to the concerns and interests of all.”

In that vein, Dr. Gosselin has also published a variety of research and review articles and has written content for textbooks. He has published dozens of original research articles focused on the burden of musculoskeletal disease, as well as the importance and efficacy of its appropriate surgical treatment. In 2014, he served as editor-in-chief of Global Orthopedics, Caring for Musculoskeletal Conditions and Injuries in Austere Settings, which was described by Dr. Trafton as a “comprehensive, thoughtful, and timely textbook” designed to “guide patient care around the world, where perhaps two-thirds of the population live in variously austere settings, and help both local surgeons and visiting volunteers to improve their knowledge base.”

A friend
“Dr. Gosselin demonstrates the unparalleled courage, dedication, intellectual integrity, academic brilliance, and ultimately, compassion and caring for the world’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations,” wrote Dr. Coughlin. “[He] is indeed a consummate global orthopaedic surgeon, brilliant and thought-provoking academic, inspirational teacher, and friend.

“I cannot imagine a more deserv­ing candidate for the AAOS Humanitarian Award,” said Dr. Trafton. “The world is a richer and better place, not only because of the care he has provided for so many of its less fortunate people, but for the knowledge, example, and role model that he provides for the entire community of orthopaedic surgeons.”

“Richard is the most passionate and dedicated humanitarian I have ever met,” agreed Dr. Spiegel, “and a role model for our entire orthopaedic community and for all others who strive to improve access to orthopaedic care for the poor and disadvantaged in austere environments around the world. He has dedicated his entire life and career to this pursuit. He is a wonderful, kind, and caring person, and I doubt that there can be anyone more worthy of the honor of AAOS Humanitarian of the Year.”                          

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