Today, one of my classmates and I had the incredible opportunity to observe two orthopedic surgeries at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. The first surgery was implanting an external fixator on the leg to correct the alignment of the patient’s tibia, and the second was drilling to fuse a fractured elbow. Although these had been my first two orthopedic surgeries, this past summer I was fortunate enough to observe two brain surgeries using one of the products of the company I was interning at. Having seen four surgeries within the past year spread between two different countries, I was able to compare and contrast the experiences I had in the United States versus South Africa.
The first major difference I was able to recognize was the credentials needed to observe the surgery. In the United States, I completed hours of online training, vaccinations, and approvals in order to be able to stand inside the operation room. Contrarily, in South Africa, absolutely no credentialing was required. My classmate and I had originally arrived at Tygerberg Hospital to meet with an orthopedic surgeon outside of surgery to ask some questions, but it just so happened that there were operations going on during our visit and we were able to dress in scrubs immediately and walk right into the operation room. This was an interesting learning experience of the differences in values of the two countries as they relate to healthcare: the value of individualism and privacy in the Western world and United States versus the African cultural value of community through significance of knowing and sharing.
However, the major similarity between the surgical experiences in different parts of the world was the collaboration between the healthcare providers. In both experiences, it was amazing to see how engineers, surgeons, nurses, assistants, etc all worked to accomplish one main goal of restoring health to a patient in need. In both experiences I was able to identify the dependence of the surgeon on the engineer when using a software or technical tool, and as a biomedical engineering student, it gave me a sense of pride that the field I was headed into was needed and appreciated. Overall, the surgical experience magnified my gratitude for having the opportunity to work with healthcare providers in South Africa.