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“The best part was the depth of personal experiences that the faculty shared,” continued Dr. Zehnder. “The presenters were all experienced volunteers, who had been to these sites and had spent many volunteer hours working with the people. Some of their stories and experiences are just unbelievable.”

AAOS Now

Published 7/1/2007
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Peter Pollack

Do you have what it takes to volunteer overseas?

Teach–Travel–Learn workshops open doors to other cultures

If you ever considered volunteering your services in a developing country, you probably had a lot of questions about what such service would involve. Maybe you wondered whether your family would be welcome, or perhaps you wanted to know more—about the customs of the country, the state of the medical facilities and personnel, or the safety of the water supplies or on the streets—before you signed up.

The opportunity to connect with physicians who have a very different cultural background, view orthopaedics from a new perspective, and simply heal people without having to think about insurance and coding issues can be an attractive one. Yet making the commitment to leave behind the comforts of your home and practice is often an intimidating step.

That’s why the AAOS and Orthopaedics Overseas (OO) developed the Teach–Travel–Learn: Volunteering with Orthopaedics Overseas workshops. The two-day workshops feature faculty experienced in traveling to and teaching in third-world countries as part of the Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) program. (Orthopaedics Overseas is the founding division of Health Volunteers Overseas.)

Combining clinical and classroom work
Although HVO assignments include a strong clinical work component, the primary focus is on teaching local physicians modern orthopaedic techniques. Assignments are generally 2 weeks to 4 weeks long.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” says Kenneth W. Zehnder, MD, of the two weeks he spent in Nicaragua in December 2006. “I had the opportunity to see how they do things in third-world countries, which was an eye-opening experience for me. The clinical problems are very similar to those we see here in the United States—but the physician’s approach is different. It’s closer to the way we practiced orthopaedics in the 1970s and 80s. I used a lot of older instruments; it was a great experience.”

“Teaching the residents was a real highlight,” says Beth M. Dollinger, MD, who spent two weeks in Cambodia in 2004, “because they sat there and they were absolutely rapt. Anything you taught them, they really appreciated, and you felt that when you were there. You really and truly felt their gratitude. You were accepted as part of the team.

“I think it’s something everyone ought to do at least once in their lifetime,” she continues. “I think we’re obligated to give something back. We have so much in this country, and we take so much for granted. Even people who don’t have health insurance can still get health care. They may have to pay for it, but if they get in a bad car accident, they’re going to be treated. If [the people in third-world countries] get in a bad car accident, they may not be treated, and odds are, they’re either going to die or they’re going to be badly maimed.”

Setting the stage for service
Teach–Travel–Learn workshops cover a variety of topics to help participants prepare for overseas assignments. An introduction to effective cross-cultural communication and an overview of orthopaedic care in developing countries provide valuable background information. In addition, participants review specific clinical topics such as trauma and fracture management, pediatric conditions, infection control and treatment, spine problems, and hand injuries. They also discuss a set of basic principles that can guide their decision-making process in challenging cases.

Issues relating to personal preparation for travel and work abroad are covered as well. Because many physicians travel to HVO assignments with family members, the next Teach–Travel–Learn workshop will also include a special session for spouses.

“It was really a very well-run program,” comments Dr. Zehnder, referring to the Teach–Travel–Learn workshop he attended in 2006. “The presentations covered everything from had cultural information to the way orthopaedics is practiced in various countries. In the United States, we are so accustomed to the latest developments, and the workshop showed how orthopaedics is practiced in developing nations—how to deal with pediatric problems that are now rarely seen in the States but are common around the world, how to handle fractures when you don’t have access to a full range of fixation devices, how the operating theatre is set up and how the operating team works together.

Beth M. Dollinger,
MD, treats a patient
in Cambodia.

Sign up now
“I wouldn’t do an Orthopaedics Overseas or an HVO program without [attending the workshop],” Dr. Dollinger says. “It was such a valuable resource. If I had questions that HVO couldn’t answer, I could go to the Academy or the Teach–Travel–Learn faculty and get information. I think that’s invaluable.”

“I think this program is great for residents,” Dr. Zehnder says, summing up his experience with HVO. “I think it’s excellent for anybody that can swing the time. This would be a wonderful experience for any orthopaedic surgeon of any age.”

The next AAOS-OO Teach–Travel–Learn workshop is scheduled for June 13-14, 2008, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Registration is limited to 85 participants, so early sign-up is encouraged. For more information about the workshop and other HVO programs, contact Maria Trujillo at m.trujillo@hvousa.org, or visit the Health Volunteers Overseas Web site at: http://www.hvousa.org