By: Mariel Colella, PNP, MPH candidate, GECC Global Health Fellow
While GECC has been using this model for years to provide quality emergency care to those most in need in Uganda, this concept is just now being recognized by the global emergency medicine community as the way forward.
I’m back home in Masaka, Uganda after a refreshing trip to New York to see my cousin get married, and an inspiring stopover for the 2016 African Conference on Emergency Medicine (AfCEM) in Cairo. It was 5 days of nonstop global emergency medicine learning and networking bliss, including 2 days of pre-conference workshops and 3 days of conferencing, with a smattering of Cairo adventures sprinkled in there. I met many wonderful, like-minded people determined to bring quality emergency care to those in our world most in need. All in all, it was incredibly educational, inspiring, humbling, and fun! Of course, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve conferenced before. Mostly in the United States where medical conferences are a dime a dozen. I’m sure if you googled it right now, you would find about a hundred conferences are going on just today across the country. But medical conferences in and for the Global South are much less common. Even more rare is attendance by frontline clinicians from these countries. While they typically make a decent salary for their cost of living, things like airfare, visas, and hotel costs far exceed their budgets. To mitigate these costs and ensure that there are indeed Africans at the African Conference on Emergency Medicine being held in Africa, the conference and various other organizations offer sponsorship to clinicians from low income countries interested in attending.
We at Global Emergency Care Collaborative (GECC) were able to bring two of our own brilliant Emergency Care Practitioners (ECPs) from Uganda, Hilary and Glorious, and I had the joy of sharing this new experience with them. From the food to the elevators, there were a lot of questions and doubts, (Hilary told me afterwards that he initially wasn’t sure how he would survive on such unusual meals), but when it came to emergency medicine, they were right at home. Both eagerly attended every session possible, and Hilary presented to an international audience about the work GECC is doing on the second day of the conference. He was well-spoken and passionate, and attendees from all over the continent approached us afterwards to learn more about establishing emergency medicine training programs for non-physician clinicians in their countries. While GECC has been using this model for years to provide quality emergency care to those most in need in Uganda, this concept is just now being recognized by the global emergency medicine community as the way forward. In fact, each keynote speaker on each day of the conference spoke to the future of emergency medicine in Africa and emphatically called for the use of ECP-like providers, or non-physician clinicians as the answer to Africa’s emergency care provider shortage.
This was great to hear and I was proud to be there representing a training model that was being exalted as the way forward. But, I’m not actually on the frontline saving lives and making the impact the world is starting to recognize. This acknowledgement meant so much more to Hilary and Glorious. They’re the ones providing patient care every day and facing countless challenges; times when you know in theory what should be done for a patient, but the resources, personnel, and/or money isn’t there, and there’s nothing you can do. It can be extremely disheartening and burn-out is common in this environment. Recognition and appreciation is one of the most effective ways to prevent burn-out and inspire and empower clinicians, especially in such limited-resource settings.
Attending an international conference and hearing from the president of the International Federation for Emergency Medicine, and the head of the WHO Emergency and Trauma Care Program that what you are doing is the future for emergency medicine in Africa is better than any pep talk I could ever give.
On our way home, I spoke with Hilary and Glorious about their reflections on the conference. Overall they felt very inspired and invigorated to return and continue moving emergency care forward in Uganda. The acknowledgement of their work by such important speakers, and hearing about similar programs being started in other countries was most impactful. They both felt they also learned a lot, and are excited to put new skills and concepts into practice such as low-resource emergency department management, history taking tips, imaging guidelines for head injury patients, management of drowning victims, and airway management techniques. Additionally, they both had a lot of fun, made new friends, and enjoyed exploring a new culture and A LOT of new foods.