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Surgical Training Rotation in Butaro, Rwanda

By:  Allison Bradshaw, Associate Vice President of Volunteers, Education and Training

November 24, 2014

In September and October of this year, Operation Smile conducted a surgical training rotation in Butaro, Rwanda. The rotation lasted for three weeks in Butaro Hospital, a hospital built through a collaboration between Rwanda’s Ministry of Health and Partners in Health. Our team from Operation Smile included international volunteers with specialties in plastic surgery, head and neck surgery, anesthesia, and nursing. The international volunteers were paired with local Rwandan counterparts in an effort to conduct training and increase surgical capacity.

Throughout the three weeks, over 300 patients were screened, and 68 received surgery, highlighting the need for basic surgical care in the area. One patient who received some help was Beatrice. She had been living in Butaro Hospital for four months. She suffers from breast cancer that is in its end stage, and she had a tumor that continuously leaked, causing much pain and embarrassment. A doctor from PIH working in oncology brought the doctors to see Beatrice, and it was decided she would have a mastectomy. For Beatrice, this wouldn’t be a surgery that she would have before and after photos of, or that would increase her capability to live life in a new way. Instead, it would provide her with dignity and comfort for her remaining days. On the day of surgery Beatrice came in softly and quietly and left the same way. She had a certain peace about her despite her circumstance. Surgery for her meant a better quality of life and it meant a certain relief for the doctors working with her daily because she finally got the surgery she so desperately needed.


Counterparts from the hospital were able to work with Operation Smile volunteers and build upon their existing skills. This rotation also nurtured the relationship between Operation Smile, Butaro Hospital, and Partners in Health, allowing for more opportunities to come back and work with these groups in the future. The significance of this program can be measured by the amount of patients who received a health screening for the first time, by the amount of surgeries performed that would not have been possible otherwise, and by the knowledge shared between our team and the team in Butaro.

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