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Sandy Journal

Sandy-based medical team returns from teaching trips to hospitals in Rwanda, Mozambique

Aug 01, 2019 10:04AM ● By Heather Lawrence

Nurse Practitioner Stacie Pearce of Sandy with local clinical staff a medical trip to Africa with IVU Med. (Photo courtesy Stacie Pearce)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

When Dr. Jeremy Myers was a medical resident in Colorado, he went on a humanitarian trip to Vietnam. “It was a great experience. I knew I wanted to continue to travel when I became a surgeon,” Myers said. 

Myers’s resident self would be happy to know that he did go on more humanitarian trips. Myers found a partnership with the Sandy based nonprofit IVU Med, which travels to several countries to perform surgeries and teach local clinicians techniques. In June, he went with IVU Med to Rwanda. 

“I’ve practiced as a reconstructive urologist at the University of Utah for the past 11 years, and I’ve gone on a trip about every other year,” Myers said. 

“IVU Med was one of the first organizations to promote a teaching model. Our motto is ‘Teach one, reach many.’ There are a lot of humanitarian organizations who travel, but they don’t emphasize the teaching,” Myers said.

Myers said there is a dire need for his specialty. “In the U.S. there is a ratio of one urologist per about 50,000 people. In the city of Kigali, Rwanda, there are eight urologists who serve a population of 12 million people,” said Myers.  

On the June trip, Myers’s team rotated through three hospitals in Kigali for eight days. He said he saw reconstructive cases that were similar to patients in the U.S. — spinal cord injuries, scarring of kidneys, pelvic fractures and urethral tears — but the injuries were more severe because of the lower standard of initial trauma care.  

Myers saw improvements in Rwanda with the teaching model. “We taught local surgeons to provide advanced care, and that teaching translated across their whole system. In Rwanda they’ve started a residency training program in reconstructive urology and now they have several full attending (physicians) working there,” said Myers. 

Nurse Practitioner Stacie Pearce of Sandy works at Primary Children’s Hospital. She’s been on seven trips with IVU Med since 2006 to Senegal, Zambia and Ghana, and she was also attracted to their teaching model. 

“I was working a night shift in 2006 and heard one of the only radio ads IVU Med ever did. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’d love to go to Africa and travel and help people,’” Pearce said. 

“The thing that separates this group from others is its model. We brought our own supplies so we wouldn’t drain the resources of the local hospitals. The teaching has a lasting impact,” Pearce said. 

Myers and Pearce said University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare, their respective employers, are supportive of their humanitarian trips. But like most clinicians, they use their own vacation time to go on the trips.

Myers and Pearce said the trips remind them of why they went into medicine in the first place. “It’s inspiring. We teach one surgeon, then they teach their residents, and it goes on and on. There is an exponential impact,” Myers said.  

Pearce said she was thrilled when they let her do some teaching on her last trip. “I went around to the floors and taught nurses. I fell in love with the people I worked with. They are nice, normal people who choose to give back instead of go on a normal vacation,” said Pearce.

“There’s a lot of divisiveness in our world. But when you do something with a nonprofit, it makes you feel united to humanity. You see things on the news about these other countries, but then you get there and you see — these are just people,” Pearce said. 

Pearce said the local clinicians organize a lot before the IVU Med team arrives. “The first day we do a clinic and see all the patients who could possibly have a surgery. Patients travel from all over the country and we try to get in as many as possible.” 

Language can be a challenge. “English is not the common language. In Senegal, they invited doctors from all over North and West Africa. We’ll have 30 doctors observing, and they all speak different languages. So we try to get people on our team who can speak different languages,” said Pearce. 

Another challenge is the lack of correct clinical tools. “Usually the countries don’t have the right tools to work on a child. So we’d bring the tools that would work for an infant for the right procedures. By the end of the trips we’d have docs there who can perform the surgery with the right tools and train other docs,” said Pearce. 

“They teach us things as well. My technology doesn’t always work there, and when I get anxious, they remind me to go back to the basic clinical skills. Look at the patient; check his or her breathing and color. It’s good to remember those things,” said Pearce. 

Pearce said she appreciates IVU Med’s responsible approach. “I went to Haiti after the earthquake, and there were so many charity organizations that came irresponsibly that it created a vacuum for the local clinicians. I like the lasting impact that IVU Med’s training has,” said Pearce. 

“They’ve been around a long time. It’s a tremendous organization,” Myers said. “We’re trying to constantly reinforce and support what we’ve worked on with the clinicians. We set up virtual rounds with the Rwandan physicians and continue to go over cases. It’s an ongoing format in multiple directions with multiple media.” 

IVU Med was started by Dr. Catherine deVries in 1995, who worked for a time at Primary Children’s Hospital. Josh Wood of Sandy has been the executive director for 13 years. Wood said their reputation has helped them reach more clinicians and patients.   

“All of my friends from the Peace Corps went to Washington, D.C. to work for quality nonprofits, and I figured that eventually I would have to do the same. I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across this position right here in my own backyard,” said Wood. 

“It’s evolved a lot. When I first started, we did six trips per year. We attended conferences and applied to get into sites. Now people approach us and ask us to come to them. We have 14 more trips planned between August and December in places from Mongolia to Honduras,” Wood said. 

IVU Med is always looking for help. “We collect a lot of data and are always measuring outcomes. Photographers, public health students, master’s thesis students, pre-med students often come and help with that. They can sometimes earn credit for the trip,” said Wood. 

Non-clinicians are welcome, too. “If people are interested in going, we can find a role for them,” said Wood. (For information on upcoming trips, see under “How you can help.”)

IVU Med raises funds through their website and at their annual fundraiser dinner. “On our website people can select different things to donate towards and tailor their own gift. There’s also information on next year’s fundraiser,” Wood said.  

Myers and Pearce both encourage people to support the organization. “It relies on donors and people’s charity. It runs lean, but the impact that it has is so great,” said Myers.

“If people are reading about this and feeling moved, I like to say to give time, talent or tithing. There are a lot of ways to get involved, and it’s amazing what (Wood) can do with a small group or a small donation. He can take one dollar and stretch it into 10,” Pearce said. 

*Editor’s note: Executive director for IVUMed Josh Wood is a contributing writer for the City Journals.