Giving Back Across the Globe

Partnering Across the Globe | Libby Schroeder, MDMedical College of Wisconsin (MCW) surgeons Chris Dodgion, MD, MSPH, MBA, and Libby Schroeder, MD, are in the middle of an academic collaborative effort that has the intention of long-lasting implications on improving surgical care in Ethiopia and build upon a partnership that spans the globe.

They are trainers of an American College of Surgeons program called Operation Giving Back. The MCW Department of Surgery has committed to a five-year training initiative as part of that program, one of 12 other U.S. academic medical centers which was created to strengthen patient care and research capacity of Ethiopian surgeons at Hawassa University and its affiliated hospital. MCW and Hawassa University signed an affiliation agreement in May 2021 and in partnership, they are training the next generation of Ethiopian surgical leaders both in person and remotely.

“We want to help them, strengthen their own medical ecosystem, whether it’s the clinical aspect, quality improvement or strengthening research skills,” explains Dr. Dodgion, associate professor of surgery and Global Health Liaison for the Department of Surgery.

Improving the ecosystem there involves providing training in surgical techniques and new equipment, supporting the development of better data reporting systems, and facilitating research projects and initiatives that could lead to better outcomes in surgeries, among other strategies, he adds.

Operation Giving Back learned about the needs directly from Hawassa leadership and staff, says Dr. Schroeder, assistant professor of surgery.

“Our partners in Hawassa drive the agenda in terms of what is important and what we can help with,” she explains. “They know their environment best and how we can support them to provide timely access to safe and affordable surgical care.”

Partnering Across the Globe | Hawassa University, EthiopiaThis specific initiative, which Dr. Dodgion says had never been attempted before, was created several years ago with the idea that members of Operation Giving Back would spend rotations in Ethiopia for the duration of the project.

Although surgeons were able to travel there to conduct a needs assessment and build relationships at Hawassa Hospital for the first two years to help shape the plan, COVID-19 has prevented them from returning in person to continue training and provide further assistance.

That change has created both challenges and opportunities. Dr. Dodgion and Dr. Schroeder are part of a work group that is focusing on the research aspect of the initiative and shifted the research education modules they were creating to a virtual format. They also developed assignments to help reinforce the concepts they had learned by using Zoom and Google Classroom.

“One of our key successes so far has been to establish the relationship with leaders there, develop those respectful relationships and maintain them through the pandemic,” Dr. Schroeder says.

“Zoom has actually allowed us to be more involved than we would have, and we’ve gotten to know each other very well.”

On the flipside, there have been disruptions due to internet connectivity and other delays in the training, as surgeons at the hospital are pulled out of rotations to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The team is currently in the middle of the second of three modules created for the research training, which focuses on data collection and statistical analysis. Eventually, they will learn how to write up their results and then publish and present their findings, Dr. Schroeder says.

Partnering Across the Globe | Operation Giving Back training team

Both surgeons have found the training initiative to be academically extremely rewarding.

“It’s a great way to connect with other individuals who maybe have a different perspective, and you get to learn from them,” Dr. Schroeder shares. “I’m still gaining more than I give.”

Dr. Dodgion says working internationally reinvigorates him to do the work he does at home and abroad.

“I think the difference in perspectives is really helpful,” he acknowledges. “Having these other interests and passions that are connected to the work we do here at MCW only enhances the care we are able to provide.”

Learn more about globally engaged surgery faculty. Contact the MCW Office of Global Health at for other faculty-led global efforts.

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