Monday, October 14, 2019

Volunteering in Africa

Black Lion hospital CT/MR pavilion

I stepped out of the hotel lobby in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to a tropical downpour. No way would I have been able to walk to the hospital without being totally soaked, including my backpack with my laptop. The doorman saw my desperate look and told me to wait, as he was talking with a gentleman in a nice car waiting in front of the hotel. He then told me to step in and that he would take care of it. I told the driver that I was on my way to teach in the local hospital and we had a nice conversation while he made sure I arrived dry and safely. When I wanted to pay him, he refused, saying, “Thank you for what you do for my country.”

This is the kind of experience you can expect when working in a developing country as a volunteer. Not only do you make a big difference by spending your time and sharing expertise, but it is also very rewarding, and excellent “feel-good” therapy. The people you interact with greatly appreciate your contribution; not only the professionals that directly benefit from the shared knowledge, but many others that you encounter on the street or at your hotel.

In this particular trip, I was doing a RAD-AID sponsored IT assessment of the PACS system at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa. We were trying to solve a number of issues including: image quality issues with MRI images coming up unreadable at the PACS, figuring out how to connect their home-grown EMR to get a worklist going at the modalities, installing a teaching file solution, and trying to address several other small issues that they were encountering. In the week prior to that I taught a PACS bootcamp to 13 PACS administrators in Dar El Salaam, Tanzania, which was very well received. I like nothing better than the “Aha, is that how it works?” glint in the eyes of these professionals.

Teaching PACS bootcamp in Dar El Salaam
People sometimes ask me how it is to teach or work with healthcare professionals in developing countries, and I tell them that it is not any different than teaching in the US or any other country. There are smart and eager-to-learn people everywhere. The problem in developing countries is that there is very poor or no support from the vendors that provide the equipment as they don’t spend time and effort to create a support structure with well trained engineers. Therefore, the hospital staff often has to figure out the issues by themselves, which is why training by organizations such as RAD-AID and the SIIM Global ambassador program is so important and makes such a big difference.

I would encourage each and every SIIM member to consider volunteering. I know it might be somewhat out of your comfort zone, but I can guarantee you that not only will it make a major difference on the receiving side, it will be equally rewarding for you as a person as you will grow and gain new experiences. I myself am definitely hooked and can’t wait for my next assignment. I’ll do this as long as I am able, and I’m thankful for SIMM to support such a great cause.