Profiles of 2020 ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars: Part I

Editor’s note: The following is the first of two articles profiling the 2020 American College of Surgeons-College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (ACS-COSECSA) Women Scholars. Part II will be published in the June issue of the Bulletin.

The Women Scholars Program of the ACS and COSECSA, founded in 2017, continues 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 Hellman Grant through the Association of Women Surgeons Foundation (AWS Foundation). Each scholarship is worth $2,500 and is administered through COSECSA.

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 obtain COSECSA Fellowship, 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 historically has taken place in December at the annual COSECSA meeting.

Because of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the exams took place in seven countries over the course of six weekends in 2020. A hybrid format of both virtual and in-person exams was provided. Last month, COSECSA announced that it successfully exceeded its target of graduating 500 surgeons by 2020, as there now are 559 COSECSA Fellows by examination. Of those 559 surgeons, 35 are Women Scholars Program awardees.

In this article, we introduce four of our nine women scholars from 2020. The other five will be featured in the June issue of the Bulletin. If you are interested in financially supporting the scholarships, visit the ACS Foundation web page and indicate your support of ACS Operation Giving Back, program designation: ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars Program.

Hiwot Fentahun, MD

Dr. Fentahun

Dr. Fentahun is a woman surgeon born in Debre Markos, East Gojjam, located 300 kilometers north of the capital city Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Dr. Fentahun graduated medical school from Adama University, Asella Campus, in 2014, and was awarded a gold medal for her academic success. After serving in the surgery department, University Hospital, Asella Campus Hospital, for one year, Dr. Fentahun joined the general surgery residency program at Addis Ababa University, Tikur Anbessa Hospital, and completed the program in 2019. She is now a general surgeon at Arsi University, Asella Hospital, surgery department, and intends to continue training in cardiac surgery. She is married and has two sons.

“Addis Ababa University helped me meet my role models, both male and female surgeons, who taught me discipline, surgical skills, and decision-making skills. I am thankful to these mentors,” Dr. Fentahun said.

“I believe education is meant to change our behavior, make us acquire new knowledge, and discover the unseen in ourselves and in the world. My training in general surgery was the time I became a different person from whom I was previously,” she added. “Even though it was a challenging experience, I am now a surgeon, a wife, and a mother.”

Nang’andu Malungo, MD

Dr. Malungo

Dr. Malungo is a plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon who graduated from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, in 2020. She previously had obtained her undergraduate medical degree from the University of Zambia, Lusaka. The scope of her experience includes aesthetic surgery, a fast-growing field of surgery in Africa. She has worked with vulnerable children by offering free cleft lip and palate operations through organizations such as Smile Train, Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe, and the Kenya Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.

A trailblazer and researcher in the field, Dr. Malungo is a contributing author of the Wound Care Manual and has participated in landmark replantation operations following penile and hand amputations at Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi, Kenya, in her residency. She now is pursuing a fellowship with the COSECSA.

“I hope to continue practicing surgery and mentoring other women to pursue surgery while encouraging research and innovation in this noble field,” Dr. Malungo said.

Precious Gamuchirai Mutambanengwe, MBChB

Dr. Mutambanengwe

Dr. Mutambanengwe obtained her MBChB degree from the University of Zimbabwe, Harare, in 2012 and is now a fifth-year COSECSA pediatric surgery trainee. Dr. Mutambanengwe has been the surgery registrar, department of surgery, Harare Central Hospital, since 2015. She was the 2019 president of the Zimbabwe Association of Surgeons in Training and now serves as a committee member for the Surgical Society of Zimbabwe. Dr. Mutambanengwe also is a mentor with the Cultiv8 Africa organization.

“There was never a doubt as to what I wanted to become when I grew up: a doctor. My response was always quick and sure,” Dr. Mutambanengwe said. “When I started my clinical rotations as a medical student, I instantly fell in love with the stimulating, fast-paced environment and rapid response of patients in surgery. The response ‘I am going to be a doctor’ was then replaced with ‘I am going to be a surgeon.’ Twelve years later, I am now in my final year of training to become a pediatric surgeon. The road has been riddled with the unique combination of challenges that come with being a female surgery trainee in Africa while also experiencing financial constraints,” she added.

“I love people and am an optimist at heart. My passion for surgery and working with children has not been deterred by working in one of the busiest surgical units in the country. Working for the only pediatric surgery unit in Zimbabwe, I am constantly humbled by the lengths some of our patients go through to reach our facility and services,” Dr. Mutambanengwe said. “I will never forget how a 70-year-old grandmother once walked over 50 kilometers with her granddaughter who had an anorectal malformation before being transported to the center. Her story and many others like it inspire me to offer the best services I can despite the harsh economic environment in my country.

“Often, we must be creative in management planning to use what we have efficiently and effectively. During times of shortages of drugs, surgical sundries, and theatre staff, my heart bleeds when we must postpone a life-changing surgery for a child because of lack of funds for a crucial investigation,” she said. “My aspiration is to one day build a well-funded, world-class teaching pediatric hospital in Zimbabwe where underprivileged patients can receive access to the best services, regardless of lack of finances. The hospital also will be a center of excellence, with patients being referred to it across Africa.

“I also intend to form a foundation that supports female surgical trainees through not only scholarships, but also training in financial literacy, thus empowering the African female to thrive in the surgical field and to enjoy surgery as I do,” she added.

Bethelehem Yesehak Worku, MD

Dr. Worku

Dr. Worku was born and raised in Addis Ababa. Following her completed undergraduate studies from Lideta Catholic Cathedral School, Dr. Worku attended medical school at Addis Ababa University, where she graduated at the top of her class in December 2014. Dr. Worku also was awarded “Best Medical Student” from the Ethiopian Medical Association in 2013. She has been a lecturer at the College of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, Addis Ababa University, since 2015.

Dr. Worku was an exchange student for three months at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, during her internship years. At Karolinska University Hospital, she was exposed to several neuro-oncology and neurovascular cases, which encouraged her to pursue what seemed like a newly evolving specialty back home. During her neurosurgery residency at Addis Ababa University, Dr. Worku has witnessed the steady progress that her mentors have made in neurosurgery. Her residency at Addis Ababa University provided training in neuro-trauma and pediatric neurosurgery. The hospital is one of the only places for such training in Ethiopia.

Aside from her work in medicine, she participates in humanitarian activity. While working for Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital, Addis Ababa, Dr. Worku saw patients from rural areas of Ethiopia. Since 2015, she has served as vice-chair of Gojo Ethiopia Temporary Shelter and Accommodation for Patients in Need, a local nongovernmental organization, which shelters 52 patients at a time and provides food and transportation.

In 2018, Dr. Worku became a research fellow under the National Institute for Health research group in neuro-trauma and is involved in research on outcomes of traumatic brain injury in low-income countries. During her final year of residency, Dr. Worku served as chief resident of neurosurgery at Addis Ababa University. She will be the third female neurosurgeon in Ethiopia and anticipates her accomplishments will encourage many more in the field.

“It had always been my dream to become a doctor. As a child, I was always acting as a physician during school performances. It seemed like such a natural choice. During my internship years on my neurosurgery rotation, I came to know and fall in love with neurosurgery,” Dr. Worku said. “What attracted me most was the gratefulness of patients who improved despite some of the disappointments and lack of sophisticated equipment. I saw the drastic improvement of the typical chronic subdural hematoma patients and wished to see that progress all the time.

“The neurosurgery program has shaped me into becoming a stronger person,” she added. “It also has made me realize that medical school and the real world are totally different things. What our patients need is not a person with a good grade; it is anyone with enough training at the right time.

“My future goal is to continue my training in epilepsy surgery, as it is currently not being addressed in Ethiopia. Involvement in research at the current times of evidence-based medicine is a necessity and not a choice. I believe in a bright future that we can attain through hard work and by supporting each other,” Dr. Worku said.

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