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UK Urologists Working Abroad

The Urolink faculty welcomes members to visit established centres, discussion about the logistics of setting up a new link, and encourages collaboration with other interested parties to share resources and experience.

A request from a centre for specific assistance is essential before every new visit, and there must be clear aims and objectives as to what you will be trying to achieve during your visit.

Before any attempt to set up a potential new link, the Urolink committee recommends that you look at the  information below for guidance.


Making a New Link

Assessment of need

Initial assessment of needs should be carried out with the members of staff from both institutions. Objectives in terms of research, service provision, management of resources, supply of learning materials and proposed visits need to be discussed and prioritised between leaders of the institution overseas and link members from the UK. This ensures that the expectations of both groups are similar. Any link should initially be small with limited goals that are achievable. This will give both partners confidence and provide the foundation upon which additional components can be established. Each link will develop at its own pace and each group must have an equal input, in the knowledge that imposition of Western priorities is inappropriate and likely to alienate the partners in the developing countries.

Communication to maintain the link

For any twinning venture to be durable, the key is communication. This should be by formal visits both to and from the developing country concerned and by communication between visits. The latter can be difficult because postal, telephone and computer links can be unreliable but regular contact is essential, particularly in the period after a visit. Ideally, e-mails or WhatApp messages should be exchanged regularly to assess the progress of both partners and to provide each with the relevant information and other support to ensure the visit has been a success for everyone. Good communications help to maintain momentum and strengthen longterm relationships.

Visiting

Twinning is not designed to make an overseas institution dependent upon visits although such visits are a means to enable the institution to recognise its weaknesses and to identify methods to overcome them. Visits between hospitals or departments are a very effective tool, but, alone and without proper planning, can achieve little. When both groups have agreed who should visit and in which direction to proceed, clear objectives need to be set out for the visit:

  • What is the purpose of the visit?
  • How will the objectives be met?
  • Who will be involved from each side?
  • How long is the visit? (Shorter than one week is not acceptable as climatic, medical and cultural adjustments take time; an ideal visit would last for more than two weeks).
  • These issues should be agreed in advance so that there is adequate preparation and so that each group has similar expectations.

The visit should then be followed up by a report that highlights:

  • what was achieved in relation to the goals set for the visit.
  • what was not achieved and why.
  • unforeseen benefits/problems.
  • plans and recommendations for the future.
  • The report should be circulated to the relevant parties so that lessons can be learned and clear plans devised for the future.

Urolink is keen to encourage longitudinal relationships with visit centres, because they facilitate ongoing educational activity.

You are advised to visit the Urolink Publications & Social Media page for further useful information about setting up a link and sustaining it.

 

Logistics & Planning Your Visit

Visits to overseas centres need careful planning to ensure that the centre benefits from you, and your team, being there. Working in an environment without many of the facilities, techniques and instruments you rely on back home can be extremely challenging; this needs to be taken into account when planning the trip.

The BMA has published a very useful guide to working abroad called 'Volunteering abroad as a doctor', which contains much useful information for you to consider before you travel professionally.

A  'Personal Survival Guide'has been evolved by Urolink which gives information about what you may need to plan for before you depart, and after you arrive in your host centre. This is downloadable here as a printable checklist before you leave the UK.

Beforehand:

  • You need to identify the local surgical lead and have a robust means of communicating with them, usually mobile, WhatsApp and email
  • Ask when is convenient for you to be there, taking the seasons, religious festivals and other locally-relevant factors into account
  • Determine what the local team want you to achieve during your visit, and then work out the logistics of building a team, finding the funding and organising the travel to provide the help required
  • Create a team WhatsApp group
  • Find out where you will be staying, who is paying for the accommodation and what the facilities there are.
  • Arrange tickets, visas and work permits, if required
  • Ensure relevant inoculations, and documentation, are in order and buy/prescribe malaria prophylaxis, if necessary
  • Sort out any relevant equipment and operative materials, and know how you will get them to their destination. Check you have the relevant personal kit, or money, (link) with you
  • Ensure you have sorted out transportation from the nearest airport to your accommodation, especially if you are arriving in the middle of the night!

When you are there:

  • Meet the local team and do a ward round to see the patients they want you to operate on
  • Have a robust mechanism for archiving patient details as local notes are often scant, or incomplete
  • Work out a review schedule and agree operating lists
  • Don’t overfill lists, start slowly and increase capacity if you can, which usually you can’t!
  • Take plenty of bottled water with you to operating sessions
  • Keep a record of what you do so you can provide Urolink with a report 
  • Have a really good time!

.... and after you've been:

  • Submit your report to the Urolink Committee so that it can be published on this website and so that others can learn from your experiences. Click here to download the visit report template. Ideally, Urolink would hope to see visit reports, which contain statements of achievement similar to those below:
  • “ ... the Urolink team met with local surgeons & agreed to help with development of the curriculum & support examinations (COSECSA) ..."

    " ... Consultants in the department are now performing regular TURP & collecting audit data to assess complications, length of stay etc ... trainees are performing flexible cystoscopy lists in the outpatient clinic (Zambia) ... "

    " ... initial assessment of the service identified the need for TURP training performed under the supervision of the Urolink faculty (Zambia) ....

  • Keep in contact with your host and make plans for your next visit!
 

Teaching Abroad

The major component of any Urolink visit or of any collaborative twinning programme, in terms of benefit to the recipient, is undoubtedly teaching. There is only limited value in undertaking visits which solely concentrate on management of a small number of clinical problems or cases prepared by the host Department. Any long-term gain can only be achieved by teaching staff to manage clinical problems once the visiting team have returned home.

Teaching essentially takes two forms; first, performing procedures and training individuals to undertake them on their own, and, second, formal teaching through lectures, seminars and presentations.

Planning the educational visit

  • Before leaving home to embark on a visit to a developing country, it is essential that you are organised
  • Agree teaching/training goals
  • Agree areas specified by the developing department rather than to teach on subjects or cases judged as appropriate in the UK
  • Establish who the target audience will be and what their perceived goals are for the teaching programme
  • Establish what teaching facilities are available including audiovisual equipment
  • Assist with organisation where appropriate to maximise the teaching opportunity.

What to take with you to teach

For formal teaching Powerpoint® presentations are probably he most appropriate but do depend on the facilities available locally. It is usually helpful to bring a number of "props" which will help to get messages across and to add an element of variability to lectures and presentations. Taking examples of catheters, ureteric stents and X-ray images is, therefore, well worth the extra luggage space required. A general supply of "handouts" is also advisable, summarising the salient points of any teaching undertaken, including both formal presentations and surgical techniques that may be demonstrated.

How to teach abroad

  • Know what your host thinks is relevant and plan your teaching around those topics.
  • Pitch the level and the topic of any teaching session appropriately to the audience; ensure that the messages are simple and brief.
  • Remember that English is the second or, sometimes, the third language of the medical staff from developing countries so you need to ensure that appropriate language is used with minimal abbreviations and a degree of repetition of the salient points.
  • Small presentations broken up by periods of audience involvement, and the opportunity for the audience to ask questions, are preferred to long didactic lectures. MDT or case-based discussions are a good way of putting points across.
  • It is important never to underestimate the knowledge of medical staff in developing countries, particularly relating to clinical conditions they commonly encounter locally.
  • Get feedback.

Inevitably, both formal and surgical teaching are mutually beneficial, with knowledge being shared by both parties. Always allow plenty of time for formal, or informal, discussion.

 

Trainees working abroad

UK urological trainees may wish to spend a longer period of time abroad than can be provided by a 'workshop'. This can be taken as an Out of Programme Experience or "OOPE".  In most circumstances you must seek approval for an OOPE from both your Programme Director and Deanery; you should allow plenty of time for any deliberations which may be needed. Your OOPE is more likely to be successful if you set clear aims and objectives in advance of your departure.

For further information, click here to go to the Urolink section, "FAQs About Urolink" and select the dropdown "Can I take study leave for a visit abroad?" You may also find the following links useful.

Information from UK-based urological trainees:

Generic links relevant to UK surgical trainees wanting to work abroad:

 

Volunteering

Urolink only supports urologically-related teams, surgeons, nurses, technicians volunteering to work, usually for short periods, in the developing world.

It recognises, however, that some individuals may wish to volunteer for other humanitarian reasons, including in disaster relief. Their needs can be helped by reference to the Website Links on Working Abroad for organisations such as the ICRC, MSF, Mercy Ships, RedR and VSO and by looking at these articles:

Volunteering

Disaster Medicine

Missionary Medicine

 

Useful Websites

International Volunteers in Urology encourages volunteers but has a different sphere of activity from Urolink, with connections mostly in South America.

The World Health Organisation has been involved in overseeing the evolution of global public health for man years and has recently published a report outlining the progress made over the decade that Dr Margaret Chan has served as its Director-General.

The Global Anaesthesia, Surgery & Obstetric Collaboration (GASOC) aims "to build a cohesive advocacy movement for global surgery amongst trainees across the surgical specialities" and allows trainees across all three specialities to share educational resources, research & publications.

The G4 Alliance is a surgical, obstetric, trauma & anaesthetic care collaboration which exists "to increase political priority and mobilise resources to help provide safe surgical care for patients in need".

The Tropical Health & Education Trust (THET) forges partnerships with healthcare experts to deliver targeted training programmes in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Read Lord Crisp's 2007 report on "Global Health Partnerships" and the 2016 report on "Lessons learnt from monitoring & evaluation experiences in Zambia".

The Royal College of Surgeons has a section devoted to international affairs and delivers an internationally-renowned programme of activities and collaborations, including an active International Surgical Training Programme (ISTP).

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has extensive and highly detailed information on many aspects of working abroad in its pages on Global Health Policies.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has a strong collaborative programme with COSECSA  created to develop surgical skills in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain & Ireland (ASGBI) is keen to foster links with developing countries who have less well-developed surgical training and healthcare provision.

Their International Development Committee encourages international contacts to help individuals and groups organise visits abroad.

The College of Surgeons of East, Central & Southern Africa is an independent body that fosters postgraduate education in surgery and provides surgical training throughout the region of East, Central and Southern Africa. It operates in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The West African College of Surgeons represents surgeons in 17 west African countries, and aims to establish advanced skills, simulation centres and educational resource facilities within the subregion.

The Pan African Urological Surgeons Association  aims to bring the highest standards of urological clinical care through education, research and collaboration, to the urology patient on the continent of Africa.

The Société Internationale d'Urologie Foundation (FSIU)created in 1998, has educational scholarships, provides teaching fellowships, conducts research and advances medical education in urology in the developing world. In the last 10 years, more than 200 urologists have received a total of $1 million in funding.

The International Collaboration for Essential Surgery premise is that surgery should - and can - be safe, accessible, and affordable to people worldwide regardless of income or geography even in limited resource settings. Often, this requires only a modest investment in infrastructure.

Global HELP (Health Education Low-Cost Publications) has produced "Primary Surgery" which is the most used reference text for surgeons in poor-resource settings. It is aimed at those with only basic surgical experience, and has advice about what to avoid, as well as what to do if things go wrong.

The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery believes that universal access to safe, affordable, surgical and anesthetic care - when needed - saves lives, prevents disability and promotes economic growth.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health has produced this report. It shows that the UK plays a leading role in each sector: its global contribution being second only to the US, which it surpasses in some areas.

The Department of HealthDepartment of International Development (DFID) and NHS have collaborated to produce a report on "Engaging in Global Health" which establishes a framework for voluntary engagement in global health by the UK health sector. DFID has also authored the "Health Partnership Scheme – Evaluation Synthesis Report".

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence, and to provide them with assistance. The ICRC recruits people, signs a contract with them and gives them special training before they head off to a conflict zone. If you would like to work for the ICRC, either as a field delegate or at headquarters, please visit the Human resources section of their website. Those wanting to work in the field will usually do so for 12 months at least; more information can be found here.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)  are probably the best organization to approach if you want to help in specific disaster situations. Remember that MSF does not usually accept volunteers who cannot commit to 6-12 months in the field. Donations are their preferred method of dealing with those who have limited time to spend abroad; they prefer volunteers who are multi-lingual. The roles for a surgeon within MSF can be found here.

 

Mercy Ships is an organisation, founded in 1978 to provide medical care, and surgery to the developing world, wherever the charities ships can dock.

RedR is an international charity that improves the effectiveness of disaster relief, helping rebuild the lives of those affected. They aim to relieve suffering from disasters by selecting, training and providing competent and committed personnel to humanitarian programmes worldwide.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) can be a useful way of utilising your expertise in a less-medical way and your help may be employed in a number of different ways. For information about volunteering with VSO please visit their website which will introduce the concept of the mechanism of application, looking for opportunities, what those opportunities may bring and an on-line application form.

 

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