A young patient was brought into the operating room at the University Teaching Hospital in Zambia, suffering from a cleft palate.
Dr. Chris Kapeshi, the senior maxillofacial surgeon in the country, stepped aside to allow his visitor, Mercy Ships volunteer ENT surgeon Dr. Mark Shrime, to take the lead.
“I said, ‘No, you’re operating here,'” Dr. Shrime recalled with a laugh.
Though Dr. Kapeshi’s had performed many tumor removals before, cleft palates were relatively new to him. However, Dr. Shrime had recently begun teaching him a new cleft palate repair technique called a furlow.
Eventually, Dr. Kapeshi agreed to take the lead position and began the procedure. At first, Dr. Shrime said, his colleague was tentative.
“After 20 minutes, you could see it click in his head,” Dr. Shrime shared. “It was then, I tell you, it was true knowledge transfer.”
When the surgery was over, both doctors knew something important had happened.
“Dr. Kapeshi said, ‘I will start doing these cases now,'” Shrime said, remembering the moment when his colleague showed confidence in his training.
It was the highlight of Dr. Shrime’s time volunteering. For two weeks, Dr. Shrime spent time working alongside staff at the University Teaching Hospital and a CURE International Hospital as part of the partnership between Mercy Ships and CURE.
Due to restrictions created from the pandemic, many volunteers have shifted their focus to working ashore as others continue to work in preparation for the Africa Mercy and Global Mercy’s upcoming field service.
“I’m really excited just to be part of this partnership,” Dr. Shrime said. “It was a neat, collaborative program.”
During more than a decade of volunteering with Mercy Ships, he’s both taught and learned from a global network of surgeons. From Mercy Ships veteran surgeon Dr. Gary Parker, Dr. Shrime learned one of his biggest lessons: surgery is not just about a technique or a skill; it’s about confidence.
“As soon as you start getting scared, you start to pull back, and you stop doing this particular case, and you stop doing that particular case,” he said. “And as a result, the more difficult cases just go untreated.”
When Dr. Shrime visited Zambia in the fall of 2021, he wanted to pass on this lesson.
In addition to working with Dr. Kapeshi, Dr. Shrime worked with two ENT residents: a doctor who had just finished his training and a trainee at CURE. He also delivered a lecture to the Surgical Society of Zambia.
And though he did spend some time instructing, Dr. Shrime says that it was more of a partnership than a mentor/mentee relationship.
“Dr. Kapeshi is a spectacular surgeon; he taught me some techniques that I like and will incorporate into my practice,” Dr. Shrime said. “The man’s done, guaranteed, more surgery in his life than I’ve done in my life.”
Within these collegial relationships, Dr. Shrime believes it’s important to share the best techniques — always continuing to learn.
“You have excellent surgeons who simply haven’t seen the particular technique,” Dr. Shrime said. “So, it’s not like you’re coming in and being like, ‘Let me teach you to be a surgeon.’ It’s, ‘Here’s a particular technique for a particular disease.’ And I think that’s important because otherwise, the burden of that particular disease isn’t necessarily getting treated.”