October 16, 2014

Anesthesiologist from Nairobi observes VU’s services, training

Kenya struggles with a dearth of pediatric anesthesiologists, having a grand total of five. And that’s for a general population of 45 million, some 43 percent of whom are under the age of 15.

Susane Nabulindo, MBChB, from the University of Nairobi, works with Mark Newton, M.D., and Jenna Helmer Sobey, M.D., during Nabulindo’s recent two-week Anesthesiology observership at Vanderbilt. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Kenya struggles with a dearth of pediatric anesthesiologists, having a grand total of five. And that’s for a general population of 45 million, some 43 percent of whom are under the age of 15.

One of those five busy specialists, Susane Nabulindo, MBChB, traveled from Nairobi to Nashville recently for a two-week observership at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“I’ll be carrying home Vanderbilt’s organizational system for clinical services and anesthesia training,” said Nabulindo, who lectures in the Department of Anesthesia at the University of Nairobi.

After attending morning lectures, Nabulindo spent her days at Vanderbilt observing cases in the OR at Children’s Hospital. She says she focused on cases not normally seen in Kenya. Here in the United States, “lifesaving surgery is often possible for children born with various congenital malformations and syndromes, but in Kenya those children would likely succumb in their first hours or days,” she said.

Nabulindo’s Vanderbilt observership was arranged by Mark Newton, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Anesthesiology, and Jenna Helmer Sobey, M.D., assistant professor of Anesthesiology.

Following her time at Vanderbilt, Nabulindo went to Boston for two additional weeks at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“We believe that if you can truly invest in even just one person, give them the right skills and tools, they can change their country,” Newton said.

“Unfortunately, the unmet needs for pediatric anesthesia in Kenya and the rest of East Africa are overwhelming. We’re hosting Susane at Children’s Hospital in hopes that she can go back and provide needed leadership. And we’ll continue to support her work going forward.”

Nabulindo’s visit is part of Department of Anesthesiology outreach efforts in Kenya and East Africa.

Newton spends 10 weeks a year at Vanderbilt and devotes the balance of his effort to practicing and teaching in Kenya, where he is chief anesthesiologist at Kijabe Hospital. Having worked in Kenya since 1997, he’s the first member of the Department of Anesthesiology to work as a physician overseas in a long-term capacity.

This academic year, through the auspices of Vanderbilt International Anesthesia, approximately half of Vanderbilt’s fourth-year anesthesiology residents will travel in pairs to Kenya for a monthlong clinical rotation.

Joining Newton at his base at Kijabe on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, residents will learn how anesthesia is performed in a resource-strapped country. (Besides benefiting patients and students in Kenya, the Kijabe rotation is proven to bolster resident recruitment in the Department of Anesthesiology.)

Newton and Faye Evans, M.D., of Boston Children’s Hospital, collaborated with various international anesthesiology societies to establish the University of Nairobi’s East Africa Pediatric Anesthesiology Fellowship, the region’s only anesthesia fellowship program. (This summer, Nabulindo was among the inaugural group of three fellows completing that 12-month program.)

Recently the Department of Anesthesia struck a partnership with the University of Nairobi’s anesthesiology program, an arrangement that Newton says may eventually include more faculty visits to Kenya, live instruction via the Web, and joint research efforts that would help Kenya build research capacity while allowing more Vanderbilt anesthesiologists to get involved in global medicine.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt will continue to partner with Boston Children’s Hospital in hopes of welcoming more pediatric anesthesiology observers from East Africa.