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Smile Train Scholar Reports

Akinwale Adeyemi Efunkoya, MD

Why did you want to be a Smile Train International Scholar?

I wanted to be a Smile Train International Scholar because while working in Nigeria, I encountered a lot of cleft patients requiring surgical repairs. Surgeries were sponsored by Smile Train, but there were always a few patients I was not able to assist due to inadequacies in my skill set and my lack of exposure to some more advanced repairs. Common examples of this set of patients include some patients with syndromic clefts, some poorly repaired cleft lips and cleft palates requiring secondary repair, as well as patients requiring velopharyngeal surgery to improve speech.

I wanted to have the exposure and training to be able to offer the best care available to my patients.

How has working with Smile Train improved your practice in Nigeria?

I am very grateful that my training center was the Craniofacial Center of the University of Illinois. I was able to observe a comprehensive cleft team working together seamlessly to achieve the best outcome for patients.

My training has improved my practice in Nigeria in the following ways:

I have been able to "step down" the training I received at the craniofacial center to the other surgeons in my center so that we can all function at the same level of understanding. This is a continuous process, but I have already started this by presenting a seminar on the highlights of my training.

Since my return from training, I attended our national cleft conference in Abuja (NACLP – Nigerian Association of Cleft Lip and Palate) were I presented a paper on comprehensive cleft acre at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano (my center). The paper helped to review how far we had come in cleft care and the next steps that need to be taken. It also gave other centers an opportunity to similarly have a critical review of their cleft care programs. Discussions at the conference stemmed from some of my new insights since my training.

My center was approved for full comprehensive cleft care sponsored by Smile Train shortly after the conference. As the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital Kano cleft coordinator, I am building and equipping my cleft team to deliver quality cleft care in a truly multidisciplinary manner.

Over the years working with Smile Train, I have continued to improve my surgical expertise and add newer procedures to my competencies. Smile Train has allowed me to continue to improve constantly.

The training has also brought me in contact with international experts who I believe will continue to mentor me in better cleft care.

Neela Bhattacharya, MD

List the objectives accomplished during your fellowship.

Saw the setup and the system of Plastic Surgery services in the USA and observed state-of-the-art craniofacial surgeries to be emulated in my practice in India. I met with dedicated, research-oriented faculty, inspiring me to do the same at home, and explored a new land (I am visiting the U.S. for the first time).

How has receiving this scholarship impacted your career goals?

We do many surgeries, but our documentation and follow-up are not good enough. Now I aim to concentrate on compiling, analyzing and presenting/publishing my work, engage more in teaching/mentoring and seek support for research.

What would you consider to be your biggest successes during this experience?

Visiting some of the best hospitals in the U.S. and seeing the abundant resources and infrastructure available was an eye-opener for me. Networking with international colleagues and building rapport with them. Fine-tuning my surgical skills.

What advice would you give future international scholars in this program?

Young plastic surgeons should apply for this program. They can then learn how systems should be put into place and how surgery is planned and executed to patient satisfaction and apply that knowledge to their own practices.

In the more practical aspect, they should find living spaces close to the hospital so that they can reap the full benefits of the OR schedule.

Franck Masumbuko, MD

Why did you want to be a Smile Train International Scholar?

Because i have a need to complete my training in cleft surgeries. To benefit from a well thought and competent training in cleft surgeries in the big centers of the United States of America.

How has working with Smile Train improved your practice in DR Congo?

Working with Smile Train is an opportunity for children born with cleft lip and palate and for my institution. Smile Train helps us day by day to develop excellence in cleft surgeries in the Provincial General Hospital of Bukavu. This hospital is in great need of a center for craniofacial surgery, taking into account the increasing demand of the population and the reference role of the Hospital for the whole Province of South Kivu, with more than six million people and also the biggest hospital of the eastern party of the country with more than 90 millions of people.

Sundereshwer Sood, MD

Why did you want to be a Smile Train International Scholar?

We all know that Smile Train has benefited millions of cleft children in many parts of the world. What is not talked about very often is how it alters the surgeon's life as well. Smile Train offers an opportunity for large-volume cleft cases, enabling the surgeon to excel in this field. Living a frog's life in depth of a well oblivious of the rest of the world does not serve any purpose, being an international scholar helps in international exposure which tells me the areas I am good in and those in which I need to improve. It's a step towards evolving into a better surgeon.

How has working with Smile Train improved cleft care in India?

Smile Train has revolutionized cleft care in India. In Delhi, where I work, Smile Train centers are the only centers offering comprehensive cleft care. The quality of treatment at these places is substantially superior to that at other places. Though we continue to make all efforts to help the poorest of the poor, the fact that the rich are also walking into our private wards paying for the same treatment that the charity delivers free for the poor stands as testimony to the faith people have in our abilities. It's my firm belief that the future of cleft management and research that needs to happen will have substantial contributions from Smile Train centers.

Lourna Leah Velasco-Victorio, MD

Why did you want to be a Smile Train International Scholar?

Working with cleft patients, I believe it is my duty to learn more to be able to give them the best options for treatment. I want to see how we can adapt the treatment modalities in first-world countries to ours. I think observing and conversing with more experienced surgeons on their experiences is a good way to do this.

How has working with Smile Train improved cleft care in the Philippines?

Smile Train provides funding for surgery for cleft patients, which is a big help, especially for a majority of our patients whose families live hand-to-mouth. These children would not be able to receive the surgery if not for Smile Train. They also provide speech and dental care for the patients. Smile Train also provides opportunities for training and learning for its volunteers, which I think is very admirable and really promotes its advocacy to provide the best service for its beneficiaries.