Bringing Orthopedic Training to Tanzania

The world continues to get smaller, and what happens to one of us affects all of us. It’s why two words hold special meaning at Atrium Health: For all.

Bringing Orthopedic Training to TanzaniaAtrium Health teammates use these two words a lot. They’re shorthand for the organization’s mission: “to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all.” “All” doesn’t just mean Atrium Health, though. Not even North Carolina. Or even the United States. 

Most recently, it included Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania. Three Atrium Health teammates traveled there with Dr. Robert Erdin with Veterans Affairs, to train doctors in orthopedic care. Erdin volunteered at the Moshi hospital three years earlier, and the three doctors who joined him on this trip built upon the relationships he’d created there: Dr. Matthew Braswell, chief resident in orthopedic surgery at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute; Dr. Virginia Casey, Associate Professor, Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute; Dr. Natalie Marenghi, chief resident in orthopedic surgery at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist; and Dr. Jason Halvorson, orthopedic trauma specialist at Wake Forest Baptist and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“As the world becomes more interconnected, it’s becoming more important to support each other and to elevate the level of care,” Halvorson says. “This trip showed Atrium Health’s global commitment to helping the world community have access to care and access to training.”

The doctors in Moshi served a large patient population despite significant challenges: too few hospital beds, too few staff members and supply chain disruptions that meant too few implants available for orthopedic surgeries. The Atrium Health team saw an opportunity to support this hospital, and their relationships began long before the trip. In 2020, the team began monthly lectures via video calls to doctors in training in Moshi. Then, in February 2023, the group traveled to visit the hospital for in-person training.

“We wanted to build a long-term relationship with the hospital, focusing our work on education rather than a strictly one-week annual service trip,” Braswell says. “Our work was about developing their local resources and skillsets, not short-term volunteerism.”

Braswell, Marenghi and Erdin stayed in Tanzania for a month, and Halvorson joined them for a week. While there, the group supported the KCMC doctors to develop a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) protocol for orthopedic injuries. By adopting a protocol involving aspirin – which is inexpensive and accessible for the KCMC doctors – the hospital can now prevent more incidents of pulmonary embolism. It showed how the two groups worked together to create change: The KCMC team taught the Atrium Health team about their available resources and patient challenges, and the Atrium Health team offered relevant ideas for training. This one change has the potential to save many lives in Moshi.

“It made me very grateful and very humbled to work alongside doctors who fight tooth and nail to get things done, by no fault of their own,” Halvorson says. “It’s only because they don’t have the same resources there that we have in abundance here.”

Back in North Carolina, the team continues their video lectures with the doctors in Moshi. They communicate in between lectures, too: The Moshi doctors text updates on patients they’ve seen and questions they have. The relationship between the two teams will continue over video and text messages until the teams reunite in Tanzania, hopefully next year.

“These experiences really remind us of the appreciation we have for everything here: our staff, our implants, our hospital facilities. We’re so incredibly fortunate,” Braswell says. “They remind me why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place, to help people in any way.”