Nov. 16, 2023

Medical residents from Ugandan partner university 1st to experience emergency medicine elective at UCalgary

University delighted to host visit delayed during global pandemic
Ugandan residents
From left: Ambrose Okello, Evelyne Mwende Musau, Daniel Olinga and Margriet Greidanus.

Dr. Ambrose Okello, MD, had often wondered if he would ever leave Uganda. A physician from Lira City, Uganda in his senior year of residency, he hoped to one day travel and work with mentors to improve his emergency care skills.

So to be one of the first residents from East Africa to complete a medical residency in Calgary has been a wish fulfilled.

“The feeling of being the first. The feeling is you are there on the roof!” beams Okello, speaking from a meeting room at UCalgary’s Foothills campus, where he’s joined by two colleagues from the Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).

Drs. Evelyne Mwende Musau, MD, and Daniel Olinga, MD, also invited to complete the four-week elective in October, share his enthusiasm. They tell stories about their joy-filled arrival at the airport, the insights passed down by their preceptors and their first experience with snow.

“I need to be here,” Musau concludes.

The inaugural elective was facilitated through the Calgary-Mbarara Emergency Medicine Collaboration (CMEM), a program created in 2019 — not long before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared — to improve emergency medicine education in Uganda and build a self-sustaining emergency medicine training program at MUST. CMEM is part of a two-decade partnership between MUST and the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

The original concept of the collaboration was to have CSM faculty visit Uganda and have MUST medical faculty and learners visit UCalgary to develop departmental leadership and medical education skills. However, until now, the opportunity to host residents for medical electives had faced many barriers, including the global pandemic.

“It’s always been a dream to have MUST residents come here,” says Dr. Eddy Lang, MD, head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the CSM. “We finally have a great opportunity to reciprocate.

It was the hard work of the CSM’s Drs. Margriet Greidanus, MD, and Andrew Battison, MD, who helped arrange their elective and who were able to overcome some of the barriers we had faced in the past, Lang adds.

Ugandan residents

Ambrose Okello, Eddy Lang, Nathalie Lussier and Daniel Olinga at the Emergenecy Medicine MD Gala.

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Greidanus, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, has worked and taught in Uganda as part of the CMEM partnership and knows well the significant need and desire to build capacity in emergency care and medical training in Uganda.

She says the process of approving the residents to come to Calgary was new and complex and she is delighted that it finally progressed.

“It makes me happy that we can give back to MUST because their program has offered and given me so much — and given the residents who’ve gone there so much. Now it’s reciprocal as it’s meant to be.”

UCalgary students and researchers had travelled to Uganda for many years but up to now there weren’t many opportunities to reciprocate, says Battison, who worked with the residents as a preceptor and is one of many emergency medicine physicians at Foothills Medical Centre and the Peter Lougheed Centre who mentored them.

“So we’ve been paving the way for that, and we have lots of opportunities to train here in Calgary.”

Battison says the visit is a valuable opportunity for residents to apply the knowledge they have gained from their experience in Ugandan hospitals, where emergency medicine is a growing field.

Olinga, who was curious to learn approaches to different cases in a well-equipped emergency department and to develop his simulation and ultrasound skills, says the experience was often satisfying.

“There was less effort this time around because everything you want to do is there for you,” Olinga says. “Most of the time you want to do your best to bring out the smile in every soul you touch.”

For Battison, it has been a long-standing dream to invite trainees from low- and middle-income countries to Calgary to experience what practice looks like in a highly resourced environment.

“There were lots of interruptions, but we stuck with it and we’re really lucky to have them here. It’s so rewarding it came to fruition.”

Battison hopes UCalgary will be able to invite medical residents from Uganda every year through the CMEM initiative, to further support their development as health-care leaders and champions of emergency medicine and to help strengthen the emerging field as a specialty in Uganda.

For now, it’s off to a promising start.

“What I hope to bring back to Uganda is a personal change,” Okello says. “To be an exceptional physician who is always there, present, to help the patient.”

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