This month our Guest Blog comes to you from Dominique Vervoort, co-founder of InciSioN, the largest student-run Global Surgery network. Immediately prior to InciSioN’s very first Symposium from May 5-6, Dominique reflects on his introduction to global surgery and health care.
Photo: Dominique speaking at the Global Surgery Satellite Session at the CUGH2018
“Should I really be here?”. It’s a question that has crossed my mind not infrequently in the past. Sitting at the World Health Assembly, nervously talking in front of an audience about topics mapped and discovered by some of those in front of me, awkwardly shaking hands with leaders on the world stage, putting out statements on behalf of the future surgical workforce from around the world. Global Surgery and Global Health are led by not-so-recent graduates. “I’m 22. Should I really be here?”
Photos: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
A Key Mentor
Clinically, I have had the honour of doing oncological head-neck surgical placements at the renowned Cambridge University Hospitals, under the supervision of one of the most humble, modest, and caring surgeons I have encountered.
Faced with referred cases from across the United Kingdom, often dealing with last resort situations, his grace in the operating room extended to his gift of making anyone feel as if the world stood still.
One day he talked to a young boy as if there were only the two of them in the room, but this was not the case. He was surrounded by nine other people – two colleagues, two residents, a nurse, a social worker, his scared parents, and myself because of the rarity of the case.
No life-threatening, malignant situation or day-long operation, no shivering parents sitting by his side, no fear of having to let go of the toy car he firmly held in his left hand. The two of them, talking more calmly than if there was only peace and eternity in the world. Where there are places of monumental and natural beauty in the world you stand and stare in awe. This moment of professionalism and innate empathy was just that. Only three days later, the boy came through the procedure without complications.
Photo: View of Tokyos skyline from wards of Keio University Hospital at night
And despite everything, it has been my months of internship in Tokyo, Japan that had the biggest personal impact on me. Four months in the world’s biggest metropolitan area, working at a continental referral hospital among brilliant minds from all over Japan not bothered to schedule hour-long one-on-one teachings, showed me a part of the world I didn’t expect to really exist.
Being run after for 500 meters to return a single yen (less than half a penny) I dropped, excessively bowed to wherever you go (and doing the same myself when I came back!), sincere gratitude and smiles for the smallest gestures; Japan knows how to welcome people with open arms.
The flip side of the Japanese coin –excessive working hours and double jobs even for many a doctor- enlightened me with the fact that you don’t get anywhere in this world without working hard. However, unlike many office workers in the unfortunate monotonic vicious cycles that this society has created, hard work may get you moving, it is the vision and goal in mind that bring you to the right destination.
The world is full of gems. With loosening borders and circular migration, we are transitioning into a multicultural world embedded in traditional scenes, as countries hold on to their long-engrained traditions.
I have spent time with people from all backgrounds all over the world, but as incredible as it is to meet new people, so equally sad is it to say goodbye every time. And yet, every time, I feel happy after, knowing the people I have met leave me as a better person than I was before. I built fluent conversational skills in eight languages, to get a better understanding of cultures and people I encounter, and became aware of cultural differences in both clinical and personal settings. I have gained a home wherever I go and have my home open for all those coming my way. The cultural diversity of this world has made me who I am now – motivated, engaged, curious, hungry. Hungry to make a change in the beautiful but unfair world out there.
One of the best things on my Global Surgery journey is the family I have gained. Working closely with InciSioN’s diverse Executive Board has been inspiring, seeing how we grew through our studies and within Global Surgery, personally and professionally. Interacting with our International Team with people from 30 different countries only reinforces that sense of unity. But most of all, working alongside Zineb Bentounsi, my dearest colleague from Morocco who goes great lengths to help anyone she can, has showed me the bigger picture. Hearing and witnessing differences at all levels of our life, but also connecting every day with someone perfectly complimenting my personality has not just given me a friend, colleague, and example for as long as we may live, but trumps any of the lessons the experiences above have taught me.
Dominique Vervoort is a final year medical student at the KU Leuven in Belgium, co-Chair of InciSioN – International Student Surgical Network, the largest Global Surgery network for students and residents around the world, and incoming Research Associate at the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC) at Harvard Medical School.
He has also just been accepted at Harvard Medical School for the Paul Farmer Global Surgery Fellowship with the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change.
You can join him at the InciSioN Global Surgery Symposium in Leuven, Belgium, from May 5-6. Click HERE for more information and to register.
InciSioN is the largest student-run Global Surgery network with over 2,700 medical and public health students, residents and young doctors from over 70 countries working on Global Surgery. InciSioN’s main activities are driven by a core International Team, consisting of 42 people from 30 different countries, speaking a total of 28 languages. Furthermore, InciSioN’s work goes down to the national level through the National Working Groups, of which 20 are currently fully established in countries in all regions around the world. As a result, InciSioN provides a platform to contribute to the development of future generations of surgeons, anaesthesiologists and obstetricians around the world.
Click HERE to find out more about it.