June 8, 2023 — After spending the last year virtually connecting with government and community leaders, one University of Florida College of Medicine resident will soon travel 5,000 miles to West Africa to help bring much-needed neurosurgery resources to a public hospital.
Megan Still, M.D., a fourth-year neurosurgery resident in the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery, has been awarded a Fulbright Program fellowship to conduct a needs assessment at a hospital in Sierra Leone.
“I am thrilled to be able to be there in person,” Still said. “It really excites me to see these projects moving forward in reality.”
Still has long been passionate about global health, in part due to growing up with three adopted siblings whose medical issues led to them being put up for adoption as infants in their native countries.
“From a very early age, I was exposed to the concept that not having access to medical care can have a profound impact on people’s lives and families,” she said. “We grew up very blessed in the Midwest, but that’s not the case everywhere.”
During medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Still had the opportunity to combine her interests in neurosurgery and global health by completing rotations at medical centers in France, Cambodia and Morocco.
“Their medical systems are quite different from ours, and there isn’t always access to the same resources,” Still said. “From a socioeconomic standpoint, it was valuable to understand how these systems are different from hospitals in America and how we can best utilize resources when they’re not as widely abundant.”
In Sierra Leone, Still will collaborate with local leaders to help establish the first public neurosurgery department in a city where this kind of specialization isn’t available. Together, the team will review patient charts to determine the most crucial neurosurgery cases.
“Usually, you cannot institute the entire spectrum of neurosurgery right away,” she said. “All the equipment and support staff aren’t there, and the volume of patients is way too high. So, most of the time when programs like this are started, we begin with the main volume of necessary cases and then grow that practice as the surgical staff grows.”
After Still’s seven-month stint in Sierra Leone, the department will reintroduce two neurosurgeons — who are away completing their residencies — to the hospital to begin their practices. The goal, Still said, is to set the team members up for success so they can hit the ground running when the physicians return.
“One of the questions we ask a lot in global health is, ‘How can people from high-resource settings come into these conversations and projects in a way that’s sustainable and ethical?’” Still said. “I hope what we’re doing here is assisting these physicians and leaders so they can continue running the department smoothly and growing it after we leave.”