“My interest in helping began when I was a pre-med student. I had a year off and spent a few months in Tamale in Ghana. There was so much need for medical help of every kind.
So, I did some work in Opthamology for Unite for Sight. And that got my interest going.”
Dr. Mark Brouillette is sharing the pathway he took to get involved in helping others in Ghana.
“After that, I took two more trips back to Ghana while I was in Medical School. Then I went to the Komfo Anokye Orthopedic Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city.”
It was a sobering experience.
“I saw a lot of patients with a lot of pain, especially from road traffic accidents. Lots of injuries because the roads are really bad, the vehicles are old, and a lot of people rely on unsafe motor scooters. As I walked the halls of the hospital there were people literally waiting for days in the hallways with open fractures and bones sticking out, waiting for help.
“Seeing all that pain got me interested in pain care and anesthesia so I went into residency for anesthesiology back in the U.S. During that time, I made a couple of trips back to Ghana. Then, I carried that into the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and started teaching in anesthesia, helping out Dr. Swetha Pakala who was also helping people in different parts of the world.”
Some of the stories he tells are almost surreal. For example, a father and son were riding a motorcycle and had a bad accident, ending up in the hospital where they were separated. Each of them, in great pain, thought the other was dead. Dr. Brouillette was able to find them, reunite them, and give them each a pain-killing nerve block. He remembers them walking the halls of the hospital with their awful injuries, laughing with each other, happy they were both alive and free of pain.
Eventually, he developed a model to help train doctors in Ghana in pain management. After presenting it to hospital, they adopted it and even applied it to different specialties. “We can grow the program as big as we want because the need for care is unlimited – and now, it’s hospital wide.”, he says. “Now, I’m planning a post-Covid Needs assessment trip.”
However, he reminds us that this kind of sacrifice is not easy.
He cautions, “There’s nothing but obstacles, including your family life in the US. Getting institutions on board is hard because it’s not a big revenue generating activity. Local buy-in is tough – the doctors are those who trained elsewhere and came back, as well as senior doctors who couldn’t get away, who work simultaneously privately.”
And there’s real hardship in the public hospitals.
“The most qualified aren’t present at the public hospitals – trainees do the work – if the more qualified don’t see something that can help them make a profit, they don’t engage. They can’t go off and make money on nerve blocks (for short term pain). Chronic pain has a huge interest level because they can make money and unfortunately public hospitals don’t pay a lot.”
When making the kind of sacrifice that Dr. Brouillette makes, it is easy to feel frustrated, to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the suffering.
“I struggle with whether I’m making a difference. Are we achieving what we want to achieve? It seems there’s nothing but struggles”, he says.
But he keeps doing whatever he can do. He adds, “It’s the path that I’m on. It’s part of my job and, because the Hospital for Special Surgery supports it, I stayed in New York. They give me fellows to help me out on it so, as long as we’re all together in this, I’m hoping we’ll continue trying to make a difference.”
Dr. Brouillette, for your Profile in Caring.