A group of seven people with matching lanyards stand in front of the Interplast booth in a conference hall. A group of seven people with matching lanyards stand in front of the Interplast booth in a conference hall.

Left to right: Dr Mayday Fanueli, Dr Most Nurunnahar Begum, Dr Jackson Nuli, Interplast Board Director Dr Kirstie MacGill, Dr Dishan Samarathunga, Dr Ravneil Singh and Dr Alamea Fulivai.

Six very deserving scholars from across the Asia Pacific region relished five days of professional development and networking in May at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ Annual Scientific Congress (RACS ASC) in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Interplast facilitates a number of scholarships aimed at developing the next generation of medical leaders through training, exposure to new technologies and ways of working, and cultural exchange.

These invaluable experiences help equip local medical professionals in our partner countries with the skills and knowledge to provide high quality treatment to their patients and communities.

Thanks to our generous sponsors, three female and three male surgeons joined this important conference:

  • Dr Mayday Fanueli, Samoa
  • Dr Most Nurunnahar Begum, Bangladesh
  • Dr Jackson Nuli, Papua New Guinea
  • Dr Dishan Samarathunga, Sri Lanka
  • Dr Ravneil Singh, Fiji
  • Dr Alamea Fulivai, Tonga.

In April, we spoke to these dedicated surgeons who shared their thoughts about the opportunity and the journey they have walked to get where they are today. Now we can report on the event they’ve been waiting for.

Sharing perspectives and knowledge

The first day included the Global Health session, which saw a dynamic sharing of information between various organisations who deliver clinical and training programs in different surgical specialties across the Asia Pacific (including Interplast), along with presentations from Pacific clinicians and clinical administrators, speaking about their health systems, their perspectives on collaboration and partnership, and the key issues and challenges facing the region.

Subsequent days of the conference included programs in multiple streams relevant to the scholarship recipients – the plastic and reconstructive surgical program, the burns program, the craniofacial program, and the general surgery program.

“The RACS conference and hospital visit was well organised and everything was perfect. I’m sure it will be a turning point in my life,” said Dr Dishan Samarathunga, Interplast Scholarship Recipient.

Presenting the realities of the Pacific and Asia

Our scholarship recipients not only actively engaged in many sessions, but four of the six presented as part of the program.

Dr Alamea and Dr Begum joined other surgeons from different countries to present during the burns program. They took their audience through the extremely challenging (but very different) contexts in which they work.
For Dr Alamea, her home of Tonga is a very remote island, with a very limited workforce and training in burns care, difficult transport between islands, and limited clinical supplies for suitably treating burns.

However, they only have a small number of burns each year. Dr Begum from Bangladesh on the other hand works at the biggest burns and plastic surgery hospital in the world, and they see tens of thousands of burns cases each year.

Dr Jackson presented in a session focused on “setting up a service’’. He spoke about the establishment of plastics and burns surgery in PNG and the history, challenges, and successes they’ve had to date. Similar to Dr Alamea and Dr Begum’s presentation, the audiences of these sessions were clearly impressed with the workload and achievements of these surgeons in spite of the many obvious challenges they face. There was much reflection and discussion amongst the Australian, NZ and UK surgeons around how these remarkable surgeons from across the Asia Pacific had really put things into perspective for them.

Finally, Dr Ravneil from Fiji presented in the craniofacial stream on cleft surgery in Fiji – again reflecting on the journey to where they are today in terms of provision of a cleft service, and the many challenges they still face.

“I will apply my learning to ensure proper patient care to improve functional outcome and reduce complications,” said Dr Most Nurunnahar Begum, Interplast Scholarship Recipient.

Forging new connections

The opportunities for the scholars for networking and connections at the conference were significant.

Most scholarship recipients were able to connect with the Interplast surgeons who visit their country on programs in a very different setting. This allowed for ongoing mentoring and discussion, future planning, and for the Interplast volunteer surgeons to introduce them around to their colleagues in attendance.

The Interplast staff in attendance were also able to introduce the scholarship recipients to various Australian and New Zealand surgeons who will be able to support them in the future – via remote support, through joining overseas visits, or (as they are senior clinicians and/or heads of Unit in their respective hospitals and are excellent contacts for those scholars who need to arrange for training attachments in Australia), to finalise their own training.

Jess Hill, Director of International Programs at Interplast commented on the other benefits of the scholarships.

“It was wonderful to see that our scholars were not just there to learn, they were also educating others in terms of their challenges and their resourcefulness. There was a real sense that their contribution to the conference was in fact equal to that of their peers who spoke of their experiences in more developed contexts.”

Despite the scholars coming from such different countries and contexts and representing a range of stages in training (from senior consultant surgeons down to junior registrars who have yet to start their formal training), all their differences were put aside, and they formed enduring bonds.
Upon returning home, all scholarship recipients formally report on their learnings and share their learnings with their colleagues in their home institution via education sessions, mentoring and / or clinical demonstrations.

“The opportunity to attend RACS ASC goes a long way to improve the standard of care in my field in my country,” Dr Jackson Nuli, Interplast Scholarship Recipient, told us.

Acknowledgements and opportunities

Thank you again to our sponsors for making this incredible learning opportunity possible: PolyNovo, Avant Mutual, Efex, Jan and Garry Hart and the Rotary clubs of Mt Eliza, Mt Martha, Mornington, Somerville-Tyabb and Sorrento.

You can support the next generation of medical leaders by sponsoring a scholar to attend the next relevant professional development opportunity.

The ANZBA (Australian and New Zealand Burns Association) Annual Scientific Meeting is the premier event for burn care leaders and practitioners in Australia and New Zealand.

There are several emerging medical leaders across the Asia Pacific region who would benefit immensely from attending this conference in October 2024.

If you’d like more information on how to sponsor a scholar, see our Scholarships page or contact amanda.whitty@interplast.org.au.