Editor’s note: The following is the first of two articles profiling the 2019 American College of Surgeons-College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa Women Scholars. Part II will be published in the October issue of the Bulletin.
Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a severe shortage of surgeons. The data indicate that there are only 0.5 surgeons for every 100,000 people, and though women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, they represent only 7 percent of the surgical workforce.*
To address this challenge, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) developed a scholarship program to support women in their final year of surgical residency to help them complete their training and to encourage other women in medicine to consider surgery as a profession. This scholarship is financially supported jointly by the ACS Foundation and the Association of Women Surgeons. Each scholarship is worth $2,500 and is administered through COSECSA. Since its inception in 2017, 30 scholarships have been awarded.
COSECSA is the leading surgical organization in the sub-Saharan region and is dedicated to improving surgical education standards and strengthening overall quality of surgical care. To become COSECSA Fellows, candidates must successfully pass both a written and a clinical exam. Candidates who successfully complete the written exam are invited to the clinical exam, which usually takes place in December during the annual general COSECSA meeting. The ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars Program provides women residents with the opportunity to sit for the final oral examination.
Process for selecting scholars
Once the trainees successfully complete the written exam, they become eligible for the scholarship. Subsequently, members of the COSECSA Examination and Credentialing Committee and Operation Giving Back (OGB) Educational Subcommittee finalize the selection. In December 2019, several ACS Fellows traveled to Kampala, Uganda, for the 20th Annual General Meeting and Graduation Ceremony of COSECSA. At the meeting, ACS Fellows assisted in administering the clinical examinations on site and participated in the annual meeting. ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars had the opportunity to connect and interact with ACS Fellows, including Past-First Vice-President Hilary Sanfey, MD, BCh, FACS; Sherry Wren, MD, FACS, member, ACS Committee on Global Engagement through OGB; ACS Past-President Patricia Numann, MD, FACS; Sharon Stein, MD, FACS, member, ACS Women in Surgery Committee (WiSC); Past-ACS Governor Kristin Long, MD, FACS; Celeste Hollands, MD, FACS, member, WiSC; and Girma Tefera, MD, FACS, Medical Director, ACS OGB, and coauthor of this article.
According to Abebe Bekele, MD, FCS, FACS, chair, examinations and credentials committee, COSECSA, the program has contributed to an abundance of opportunities for women in the region. “The scholarship is instrumental in supporting women scholars to sit for their fellowship examination and, most recently, allows our young women to register for training under COSECSA. This undoubtedly contributes to increasing the surgical workforce in the region, and to the progress women surgeons have made in the field,” Dr. Bekele said.
In this article, we introduce six of our 12 women scholars from 2019. The other six will be featured in the October issue of the Bulletin. If you are interested in financially supporting the scholarships, visit the ACS Foundation web page and designate your support toward OGB, program designation: ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars Program.
Dr. Kibansha faithfully pursues career in urology
Matumaini Hope Kibansha, MD, received her bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery from Makerere University Medical School, Kampala, in 2009. She then joined a district general hospital in southwestern Uganda, where she initially practiced as a medical officer for two years, later becoming the head of the same hospital. In 2014, Dr. Kibansha received her master’s degree in surgery from her alma mater, and in 2019, completed her master of science in urology from Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College, Moshi, Tanzania. Dr. Kibansha completed her fellowship in urology through COSECSA. Dr. Kibansha’s career interest is in reconstructive urology. She is a Rotarian, enjoys nature walks, loves dancing, and takes pleasure in mentoring young physicians.
“It was a great favor from God to be a beneficiary of the ACS-COSECSA Women’s Scholarship. This [opportunity] came at a time when I was financially unstable since I had just completed my training in urology. I didn’t have to feel the [financial] pain because of this award. I am forever grateful, and may God strengthen our society,” Dr. Kibansha said.
Inspired by parents’ experiences, Dr. Yimam pursues MIS oncology
Hanan Alebachew Yimam, MD, completed her undergraduate studies in 2013 at the University of Gondar College of Medicine and Health Sciences School of Medicine, Ethiopia. She then went on to complete her postgraduate training in general surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2019 and recently began working at St. Paul’s.
Dr. Yimam was inspired to help others who need medical care after witnessing her mother’s experience with Ethiopian surgeons during her battle with breast cancer, as well as her father’s experience with Ethiopian surgeons during treatment for renal cell carcinoma. Dr. Yimam intends to study minimally invasive surgery (MIS) in the future.
Dr. Yimam said she would have been unable to cover the fee and expenses of Fellowship in COSECSA without the scholarship. “The scholarship helped me on so many levels. It inspired me and female residents and colleagues around me. It gave me courage always to do more as a human being for the nation, for the world,” she said. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”
Dr. Shinondo overcomes challenges in pediatric surgery
Patricia Shinondo, MD, is a pediatric surgeon who completed her undergraduate training in 2009 at the Kuban State Medical University, Krasnodar, Russia, where she quickly learned to adapt to challenging circumstances as a woman student far from home. This experience helped Dr. Shinondo during her surgical training in the male-dominated field of pediatric surgery at the University of Zambia, leading to her graduation as the first Zambian woman pediatric surgeon in 2019. Dr. Shinondo is pursuing a fellowship with COSECSA and has a keen interest in research, surgical education, and global surgery. She is part of the global pediatric surgery community seeking to improve access to children’s surgical care and to provide safe surgery for children in low- and middle-income countries.
“The ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars Program scholarship was not only the financial ticket and means to get me through the pediatric surgical fellowship and examination, but also an opportunity for continued surgical and professional development thanks to the ACS five-year membership and the COSECSA annual fellowship fee coverage,” Dr. Shinondo said. “Being the first female Zambian pediatric surgeon, I inevitably have to continue proving myself against my male peers, but with this award I can stay abreast of current surgical trends and practice and be a step ahead.”
Dr. Munanzvi pays it forward
Kudzayi Sarah Munanzvi, MD, is an aspiring pediatric surgeon who completed her undergraduate degree in 2017 at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences, and practices at Harare Central Children’s Hospital, Zimbabwe. Dr. Munanzvi has been involved in establishing a short course in pediatric surgery for junior physicians, and in developing a new protocol for the management of patients with gastroschisis. She also is proud to have provided medical services for sex workers at the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) Research Zimbabwe.
Dr. Munanzvi is passionate about surgical education and laparoscopy and aspires to merge these two disciplines and share them with upcoming surgeons. Having been mentored by the eminent pediatric surgeon Bothwell Mbuwayesango, MD, Dr. Munanzvi has not only gleaned meticulous surgical skills, but also adopted Dr. Mbuwayesango’s mantra that surgeons can improve patient outcomes by learning how to do simple things well.
“The ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars Program has provided a platform for me to interact with eminent women surgeons—pioneers in their fields who are willing to give me a ‘hand up.’ Spending time with these women and getting to learn from them has been a phenomenal opportunity,” Dr. Munanzvi said. “Without the financial assistance from this program, I would not be where I am today. I am grateful to have been awarded the opportunity to benefit from the program.”
Dr. Odhiambo looks forward to expanding professional network
Clara A. Odhiambo, MD, is a general surgeon and endoscopist at St. Francis Hospital Nsambya, a COSECSA-accredited hospital in Kampala, Uganda. Dr. Odhiambo also is an honorary lecturer for the Mother Kevin Postgraduate Medical School, St. Francis Hospital Nsambya. She attained her undergraduate degree from Gulu University in northern Uganda and completed her postgraduate studies in 2017 at Uganda Martyrs’ University Nkozi. Dr. Odhiambo is a proud member of COSECSA.
Apart from surgery, she is a dedicated wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. She enjoys singing and cooking for her family.
“I am excited and honored,” Dr. Odhiambo said. “I look forward to numerous networks on the path to surgical excellence.”
Dr. Ahmed strives to improve the surgical community
Marta S. Ahmed, MD, is assistant professor of general surgery, Debre Berhan University, Ethiopia. She completed her undergraduate degree in 2014 at Mekelle University School of Medicine, Tigray, Ethiopia, and then pursued general surgery training at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Dr. Ahmed’s parents inspired her to develop an interest in medicine, which led to her lifelong dream of becoming a surgeon. She intends to continue practicing surgery, while encouraging women to join the profession and engage in surgical innovation and research.
“This scholarship was very important to me for many reasons. First, it provided me the opportunity to take the COSECSA Fellowship of the College of Surgeons general surgery examination by covering all the expenses of travel, accommodations, and the examination fee. Now because of this scholarship, I am a Fellow of COSECSA. Second, this scholarship gave me the chance to join the ACS as an Associate Fellow, as well as obtain membership with COSECSA, which helps me to get additional benefits,” Dr. Ahmed said. “I am so grateful for being one of the awardees of this scholarship because this journey would not have been possible without the dedicated support I received from the scholarship. I would like to thank the ACS and I look forward to working with the ACS and COSECSA to help my community in the surgical practice.”
*O’Flynn E, Andrew J, Hutch A, et al. The specialist surgeon workforce in East, Central and Southern Africa: A situation analysis. World J Surg. 2016;40(11):2620-2627.