MORE THAN JUST HELPING HANDS

Dr Damian Ryan and Dr Nicholas Smith have joined other Macquarie University Hospital surgeons in contributing to building the capacity of Vietnamese and Cambodian surgeons.

Dr Damian Ryan and Dr Nicholas Smith have joined other Macquarie University Hospital surgeons in contributing to building the capacity of Vietnamese and Cambodian surgeons.

For the past eight years, hand surgeon Dr Damian Ryan has made annual trips to Vietnam and Cambodia to work alongside local surgeons practicing in the same sub-specialty.

Dr Ryan visits Hue Central Hospital in Hue, Central Vietnam, and in Cambodia, the Children’s Surgical Centre and the Sihanouk Hospital Centre of HOPE – the charity hospital where Associate Professor Graham Gumley set up and ran the surgical training program from 1997 to 2003.

“What appealed to me about the Cambodia program is that it’s promoting long-term outcomes and developing a sustainable well-trained local workforce,” said Dr Ryan.

“We don’t just drop in to do surgery; we actually work alongside surgeons to train them, do procedures together, discuss cases and learn from them.

“Their surgeons are highly capable. It’s the contact with visiting surgeons, the sharing of knowledge and the innovations that we bring that takes them to the next level of their ability.

“The best experience is to see a local surgeon perform a successful operation that you have taught them on an earlier trip.”

In both countries, the doctors work collaboratively with their overseas counterparts and see all types of conditions that are somewhat different from those typically seen in Australia. Many are electrical burns or burns from cooking fires ¬– often in children. The doctors also treat injuries to bone, joint, tendon or nerves from traffic accidents, damage from traditional healing practices and unusual infections.

“I find that travelling and then operating with other surgeons from around the world to be immensely interesting,” said Dr Ryan. “In Australia, as a surgeon, we work with registrars, but on these trips, we’re operating with other fully qualified surgeons and it’s a great learning experience for all.”

The doctors contribute their time and skills on a volunteer basis.