Arrival day at Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane, Laos.
Younger Fellow, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Cameron Keating had planned to be involved with Interplast as soon as he finished his surgical training. Through Avant and Interplast’s New Fellow Placement Program, he was awarded the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of working in a developing world context.
“The broad training that we receive in Australia really prepares you for Interplast work, as you make decisions often from first principles,” says Cameron.
Since 2013, Avant and Interplast have partnered on the successful Student Placement Program. This relationship was extended in 2019 to provide a New Fellow Placement Program, which offers a Younger Fellow the opportunity to actively gain hands-on experience alongside the volunteer medical team.
Cameron travelled to Laos in February 2020 with the Interplast team and says his experience far exceeded his expectations.
“The pathology was advanced and at times overwhelming. However, the patients were so grateful for any help you could offer them and would patiently wait for days for their surgery. I went in thinking that a non-cleft trip would be predominantly hand and wrist surgery cases, but the cases are much more varied than I had expected.
The local plastic surgeons, interns, and residents were so keen to learn and were some of the best assistants that I've ever had.”
The experience went beyond the context of merely working in a different country, as Cameron was able to immerse himself in the local Laos culture and witness first-hand the various healthcare issues.
“I was able to participate in a hospital assessment in Phonsovan in the non-urbanised provinces. This made me realise what difficulties ethnic minorities, including the Hmong and Khmu people, experience in accessing healthcare. This is a region where blast injuries from unexploded land mines are still common,” explained Cameron.
As for his future with Interplast, Cameron hopes this will only be the start of it.
“I plan to be a regular volunteer for the rest of my career. It is a significant commitment for new fellows with young families, mortgages, and nascent small businesses. However, being involved in Interplast is a critical reminder of why most of us became doctors and surgeons in the first place. There was also a close level of teamwork on a program that I had not often experienced in Australia.”
Interplast is an Australian charity that helps send plastic and reconstructive surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, and allied health staff to Asia-Pacific countries. The volunteers, many of whom are Avant members, provide free reconstructive surgery to communities in need and training for local medical professionals.
Cameron with a post-op patient after excision of a large facial neurofibroma, and Nika Bennett, RN.
The program is currently on hold and will resume once international travel recommences. Only plastic surgeons in their first two years post fellowship are eligible.
For more information and updates on the Avant and Interplast New Fellow Placement Program, visit our website.