Editor’s note: The following is the second of two articles profiling the 2020 American College of Surgeons (ACS)-College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) Women Scholars.
The ACS and COSECSA Women Scholars Program supports women surgeons in their final year of residency to complete training and to encourage other women in medicine to consider surgery as a profession. The scholarship is supported jointly by the ACS and the Hellman Grant through the Association of Women Surgeons Foundation (AWS Foundation). In this article, we introduce the remaining five of nine women scholars from 2020. Read about the four other scholars in the May issue of the Bulletin.
The ACS and the Hellman Grant, through the AWS Foundation, have pledged to continue awarding ACS-COSESCA Women Scholars Program scholarships in 2021. Announcements relating to the 2021 award recipients will be made in early 2022.
COSECSA and gender equity
COSECSA continues its effort to achieve gender equity in surgery and promotes allocation of resources, programs, and decision-making fairly to both men and women without discrimination.
Per the COSECSA Strategic Plan 2021–2025, the organization registered significant progress toward achieving its 2016–2020 goal of increasing both the number of women trainees and the number of women surgeons in member countries. To position COSECSA as a world class surgical professional training organization with excellent training standards and research in the region, it expects to graduate an additional 800–1,000 surgeons by 2021, which will bring the total number of graduates to more than 1,500. Through these efforts, the number of women trainees at both Member and Fellow levels is estimated to grow to 25 percent by 2025. The ACS and the AWS Foundation remain pledged to supporting this important objective.
If you are interested in supporting the scholarships, visit the ACS Foundation web page and designate your support toward ACS Operation Giving Back, program designation: ACS-COSECSA Women Scholars Program.
Eleni Addisu, MD
Dr. Addisu is a graduate of the University of Gondar–College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ethiopia, and is a senior general surgery resident at Bahir Dar University Tibebe Ghion Specialized Hospital, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
“It was before I [entered] medical school that I decided to become a surgeon. Surgery is like art for me; very entertaining while doing the procedures and very satisfying upon completion. I have a special interest in colorectal surgery,” Dr. Addisu said.
“Other than my surgical practices, I enjoy reading extracurricular books, coordinating blood donations, volunteering, and watching medical-related movies, apart from spending time with my family.”
Meron Berhanu, MD
Dr. Berhanu was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and graduated in 2015 from the Gondar–College of Medicine and Health Sciences during her undergraduate studies. In 2016, Dr. Berhanu joined the institution’s general surgery residency program and completed her training in 2020. During residency, Dr. Berhanu particularly enjoyed working in the orthopaedic department and in endocrine surgery.
“My journey of residency was like a roller coaster, with its ups and downs, days filled with screaming, excitement, fear, hope, and great fullness—sometimes all at the same time. Now that it’s all over, I think I will miss it. I love surgery because I can see the difference I can make in someone’s life. It gives me joy to keep the smile on our patients’ faces,” Dr. Berhanu said.
“We as a country don’t have many endocrine surgeons, and the burden of patients for this subspeciality is high; there are 200–600 patients on a waiting list for elective thyroid surgery on each general surgeon’s waiting list.
“I am so proud to be part of the very few females who got to do it all, proud to be a surgeon, and most of all proud to be a mom surgeon,” she added.
Netsanet Mengasha Gebregiorgis, MD
Dr. Gebregiorgis completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Jimma College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ethiopia, in 2013 and is a general surgery resident at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, Addis Ababa. Dr. Gebregiorgis was inspired to become a trauma surgeon after learning that her father’s cause of death was likely cardiac injury resulting from multiple broken ribs in his left chest and asking herself what could have been done differently.
“There is only one trauma hospital to serve 110 million people of Ethiopia. More than 5,000 people die in car accidents each year, 76 percent of which would have been preventable if it did not take so long to get to the trauma hospital. I believe I may save few lives in a day, but as a movement, we can help the 76 percenters who could have been saved,” Dr. Gebregiorgis said. “Therefore, I aspire to build and run a hospital dedicated only for trauma in each state in the country once I get enough leadership training. The ACS is one of the best places to receive this type of training.
“I want to be a role model for young girls who live in developing countries and the world to attend medical school because caring for another person just comes naturally to women. It is a great honor to be chosen for the award,” she said.
Tracern Mugodo, MD
Dr. Mugodo grew up in a small town in an eastern region of Zimbabwe. She graduated from a local all-girls mission boarding school and was successfully admitted into medical school, graduating in 2014. Following her acceptance as a member of COSECSA, Dr. Mugodo passed her fellowship entry exams and became a fellow in orthopaedic and trauma surgery. She is the first woman Zimbabwean-trained resident in orthopaedics. Dr. Mugodo now is in her final year of her fellowship program at Parirenyatwa General Hospital, Harare, the largest medical center in Zimbabwe. In her spare time, she enjoys playing tennis and traveling with family.
“Growing up in a single-parent-headed family after the passing of my father taught me a lot about being independent. I performed many chores that are thought to be for male children, such as fixing faulty electricals and pipes. Doing these tasks made me grow a passion to be the ‘fixer,’” Dr. Mugodo said.
“During my orthopaedic rotation in my third undergraduate year, I realized I wanted to be part of this special team. My interest in wanting to be technical while taking care of other people as a medical doctor is the main reason I chose a career in orthopaedic surgery. Being raised in a small community and seeing many with various disabilities and deformities was painful, especially when you are then made to believe these disabilities and deformities are not fixable. Having gone through medical school and learning that most of these conditions can be corrected to change people’s lives really got me excited and pushed me to work hard for this opportunity.
“Orthopaedics and trauma surgery offer an opportunity to commit myself to serving patients who have needs in different areas, from deformities to acute trauma, and from pediatrics to geriatrics,” she added. “My dream is to see more females breaking new ground in different specialties of interest. I want to be a role model, mentor, and great teacher to those behind me, and make them realize that through hard work, passion, and focus, the sky is the limit!”
Wanjiku Njongo, MD
Dr. Njongo was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and attended the Alliance Girls’ High School in Kikuyu, Kenya, until 2004. Upon completing her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees in 2011, Dr. Njongo trained as an intern at Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi. She studied for a Master of Medicine degree in orthopaedic surgery from 2014 to 2019 and is a lecturer in the department of surgery at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi. Dr. Njongo also is a facilitator of a foot and ankle project in conjunction with the Steps2Walk foundation, which brings foot and ankle surgeons from around the world to operate on patients and train orthopaedic surgeons.
“My interest in orthopaedic surgery began when I was in high school. Orthopaedic surgery is challenging, dynamic, and constantly provides room for innovation. The diversity of patient needs creates a foundation for holistic care, allowing surgeons to play an integral role in treatment outside the operating room,” Dr. Njongo said. “In Kenya, this specialty has seen tremendous growth over the past several years. I have participated in multiple surgical projects offering specialized services to patients who previously had little to no access to these services. I have devoted the past two years of my career to working with Kenyan surgeons in the two subspecialties, and I am also in the process of enrollment for a foot and ankle surgery fellowship. My primary areas of interest are foot and ankle surgery and tumor and sepsis surgery,” she added.
“I am keenly aware of the fact that without the support and guidance I received from my teachers as a medical student, I might not be an orthopaedic surgeon today. Therefore, I feel it is important to carry that support and guidance forward. This is especially true for female medical students, many of whom are convinced that they are not suited for this specialty. It is an honor to receive this award, and I look forward to playing my role in expanding the space for women in surgery,” Dr. Njongo said.