“We are already applying what we have learned here. It has brought a lot to us. We are realizing what we are doing, and we have learned a lot, so a big thank you to the organization, and I hope many more biomedical technicians will receive the same training.” – Badienne anta Cisse, one of the 19 course participants of the Mercy Ships Biomedical Equipment Maintenace Servicing course.
In partnership with African healthcare systems and leaders, Mercy Ships is able to train and mentor local medical professionals, improving surgical care in the long term. The surgeries performed on board Mercy Ships’ floating hospitals are life-changing for patients and their communities – but when it comes to strengthening healthcare systems, Medical Capacity Building (MCB) programs leave a lasting impact.
MCB Director Joan Kotze explained, “The biggest lack in the countries we serve is there’s no continuous professional development, so that is one of the key things they are getting out of our training. They’ve done their university degree and then practice, but nobody’s helping them to stay current and stay abreast of the latest things in their area of expertise.”
During a first visit to Africa in June 2022, the Global Mercy® had the opportunity to be part of this transformative training model. In the port of Dakar, Senegal, the new hospital ship hosted 302 Senegalese medical professionals on board for a series of 8 courses covering anesthesia, dentistry, essential surgical skills, neonatal resuscitation, nursing, and sterile processing. More than 4,500 training hours were provided. Many of these courses were the result of collaboration with partners like Optimum Biomedical from the U.K. and the Medical Simulation Skills Institute (MSSI), a Ghanaian NGO.
“I really believe in strengthening the healthcare system with the people who are in it already, and coming alongside them, finding they see they need, what their dreams are, and how we can support them to get there,” explained Mercy Ships volunteer MCB Projects Director Erin Muyres. “The goal is to support making surgery affordable, timely, safe—now and in the future.”
As the organization’s first purpose-built vessel, the ship was designed with MCB in mind – and this was an exciting first opportunity to put its new facilities to use: “We wanted to use the Global Mercy as the training platform it was meant to be,” said Erin.
Providing Hands-on Learning
The 25 classes during the ship’s presence in Senegal provided critical opportunities for participants to practice their learnings in safe spaces with high levels of feedback from facilitators and no risk for patient safety.
For participants like Dr. Fatoumata Bah, who provides emergency medical assistance at the SAMU National hospital in Dakar, these simulations were invaluable. After completing her training in the Pediatric Anesthesia course, she said, “It allows me to see things we hadn’t seen yet. It also allows us to review many other things.”
“What we’re doing is studying the most effective way in medical education to help people retain what they know,” explained Kelly Santy, who serves as Mercy Ships’ Medical Simulation Center Manager. “One of the most effective methods for training people is to have active learning or hands-on learning. Another term for it is experiential learning, so that’s what simulation is all about.”
Simulations foster collaboration, which further allows students to respond to situations by recognizing their roles within them. “These courses are an opportunity to encourage and remind and brainstorm and problem-solve together,” said Erin.
Bringing Training Back to their Communities
The centerpiece of the training facilities is the Operating Room Simulation Lab. Alongside fellow Beninese surgeon Dr. Romeo Haoudou, Dr. Odry Agbessi – Benin’s first plastic reconstructive surgeon – led an Essential Surgical Skills that brought the room to life for the first time.
Forty-five participants finished with a Training of Trainers program, which equips each student with the tools to share learnings with their communities.
“Being a trainer is a feeling that I’m giving back what I have been given, but it’s also a way for me to improve myself,” said Dr. Agbessi, who was first trained by Mercy Ships in 2016. She went on to train her co-facilitator, Dr. Haoudou, along with many other students from across Africa. “The moment I know I have to teach others, I have to do it (and redo it, then I master it).”
In addition to teaching new material, courses encourage participants to reevaluate their learnings and keep growing in their field.
‘Covering All the Spectrum of Surgeries’
The combination of 8 courses allowed participants to explore a range of topics – each one critical to accelerating access to safe surgical, obstetric, and anesthetic care in Africa by 2030. Progress will only be made with African leaders and healthcare professionals at the helm.
For participants like Dr. Babacar Diop, previous training has allowed him to take leaps forward in his career – and now pass on his learning to others. He first learned the theory behind sterile processing back in 2005, giving him a framework for why cleaning and maintaining surgical equipment is an essential element of providing safe surgery. He further flexed his practical muscles through a Mercy Ships Sterile Processing course in 2020. During the pandemic, Mercy Ships continued to partner with Dr. Diop, supporting the administration of his hospital in Dakar: Général de Grand Yoff.
“In two years, Mercy Ships has been able to train a good amount of sterile processing technicians, which is really significant,” reflected Dr. Diop. With more qualified sterile processing technicians in a country, the healthcare systems will be better equipped to properly clean and use surgical equipment, leading to lower risks for patients during surgery and recovery.
Having been trained to teach the course in 2020, Dr. Diop’s journey with Mercy Ships came full circle this year when he boarded the Global Mercy as a Sterile Processing instructor. “The interaction between teachers and the participants—that’s amazing. I really appreciate the way they are imparting their knowledge,” said one of his students, Genevieve Dione, who works as an endoscopy technician in Senegal.
After five weeks in Dakar, the Global Mercy returned to the Canary Islands to finish outfitting its hospital in preparation to begin providing the first surgeries on board in 2023. Meanwhile in Senegal, partnership will keep growing so that participants can continue to make an impact across the 13 regions of Senegal they serve.
Mercy Ships’ Medical Capacity Building programs work together with Africa to strengthen healthcare systems from within, leading to greater access to safe surgery in the long term. Learn more at http://mercyships.org