African healthcare workers during a break

RCSI mentors helping to improve access to surgical care in low and middle-income countries

  • International
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Launched in 2020, the Global Surgical Training Challenge (GSTC) was launched to address the issue of access to timely surgical care in low and middle-income countries.

Up to 17 million people, particularly from low and middle-income countries, die every year from lack of access to surgical care. The development of trained surgical teams has been identified in the Lancet Commission’s Global Surgery report as a key factor in improving access to timely surgical care.

The $5m challenge, funded by the Intuitive Foundation, asked teams of surgical educators, engineers and global surgery experts in low and middle-income countries to collaborate virtually to try and solve the critical surgical needs.

The challenge aims to make simulation-based training accessible through low-cost, open-source training modules. The downloadable modules will include a self-assessment function that allows surgical practitioners to test their new skills.

A multi-disciplinary team from RCSI is leading a mentorship programme for the teams participating in the challenge. 

RCSI was selected to lead the mentorship programme in recognition of its extensive experience of designing and managing international mentorship programmes, its commitment to global surgery and its contribution to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3: good health and well-being.

Mentor insights

Now, with four finalists developing their original prototype before the grand prize of $1million is awarded in December, their RCSI mentors share their insights.

Eric O’Flynn
RCSI Institute of Global Surgery, mentorship manager for team Tibial Fracture Fixation who are developing a training module that will teach medical officers and surgeons who are not orthopaedic specialists how to best handle this common fracture:

"I find it fascinating that everyone involved in the challenge prize is coming to it from a different perspective – some with clinical backgrounds, others from IT, education, engineering, and so on. It's a new field of endeavour, and no one is an expert in all aspects; we're all learning all the time. My own background is international development, education and surgical training in low-resource settings.

"I've found a challenge to be the breadth of subject areas that each team's project touches upon, most of which I have very little knowledge of, and some of which – such as design for manufacturing – I never even knew existed. Knowing that we have a panel of subject matters experts to advise the teams, drawn from RCSI and around the world, provides great comfort. I've enjoyed the coaching process, helping teams to express their needs, and find solutions, again relying heavily on our subject matter experts. The people of RCSI are an incredible resource, and I don't recall a single subject matter expert who we approached to join our panel refusing.”

Dr Claire Condron
RCSI SIM Centre for Simulation Education and Research, mentorship manager for team Crash Savers Trauma, which is designing a model for the prehospital setting to teach bleeding control techniques:

"One of the biggest myths in healthcare is the idea that medical breakthroughs solve all our health problems. Global challenges in healthcare require much more than new blockbuster drugs. We need to find realistic and sustainable ways to reform our struggling models of care delivery to meet the evolving needs of society. We need to create new approaches that are person-centred, creative, innovative and collaborative, yet evidence-based, sustainable and cost-effective. I recognise the importance of education of future healthcare professionals who are facing increasingly complex challenges in contemporary practice.

"In order to generate these new approaches, the global surgical challenge is drawing on the enormous potential of local talent to solve local problems and supporting this with the global community. The power of this model to find learner-centred, pragmatic and effective training solutions leveraging the affordances of new technology, while recognising contextual, organisational and financial constraints is driven by the collaboration of local professionals with a panel international experts. Optimising the approach and embedding it in the global education of surgeons and health system quality improvement initiatives could generate huge capacity within health systems to deal with challenges and change and improve patient outcomes."

Dr Gozie Offiah
Department of Surgery, mentorship manager for team ALL-SAFE, which is designing a surgical training model to provide surgeons with the necessary skills and confidence to perform laparoscopic treatment of ectopic pregnancy in resource-constrained settings:

"I am a Senior Lecturer and the Director of Curriculum at RCSI. I am also the Clinical Lead for the National Intern Training Programme in the HSE. As a mentorship manager for the GSTC, I feel I bring my many years of expertise as a surgical educator with an interest in simulation to the teams that I have mentored. I have truly enjoyed the experience. I am really impressed with the innovative ideas and creative thinking of the teams involved in the challenge and I have learned so much, most especially on how to empower colleagues in low and middle-income countries to upskill their trainees locally to improve the health of their communities."

Martina Crehan
Health Professions Education Centre, mentorship manager for team AmoSmile, which is designing a surgical training model to teach surgeons how to restore form, function and feeling through local flap surgery from wounds and defects due to burns, trauma, cancer and congenital conditions:

"Having worked in faculty development and curriculum design for a number of years, I am keenly aware of the role that simulation plays in the training of future surgeons and healthcare professionals. The GSTC is an exciting initiative in its focus on making the benefits of simulation-based training accessible to those in resource-limited settings. Having the opportunity to act as a mentor to one of the multinational and multidisciplinary teams working to achieve this aim is a rewarding and exciting prospect. Mentoring relationships are integral to developing communities of learning and innovation, and I’m really enjoying learning from the team, alongside facilitating our mentoring conversations."

The Global Surgical Training Challenge is a collaboration between RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Nesta Challenges, MIT Solve, Appropedia Foundation and Intuitive Foundation.

Further reading

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.