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UNC Neurosurgery chief resident Dr. Carolyn Quinsey visited UNC Project-Malawi in March to determine neurosurgical needs in Malawi.

Malawi countryside

UNC Neurosurgery chief resident Dr. Carolyn Quinsey visited UNC Project-Malawi in March to help the Department of Neurosurgery explore the possibility of an ongoing resident rotation and collaboration with providers in Malawi. Her visit was the first trip funded through the Bullitt-Friedman scholarship.

The University of North Carolina Project-Malawi (UNC Project) is a collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Malawi Ministry of Health. Its mission is to identify innovative, culturally acceptable, and affordable methods to improve the health of the people of Malawi, through research, health systems strengthening, prevention, training, and care.

Drs. Anthony Charles, Associate Professor, Division of Acute Care Surgery and Dr. Eric M. Wallen, Professor of Urology joined Dr. Quinsey for the 30-hour trip to Lilongwe, the country’s capital. Dr. Charles has led many medical teams to provide training to local physicians as well as facilitating donated resources at the Kamuzu Central Hospital as part of the Malawi Surgical Initiative.

Dr. Carolyn QuinseyDr. Quinsey said she wanted to take this trip “to physically remove myself from the American health care perspective, so that I could come back with a more global appreciation of resources and health care needs,” as well as to help serve the people of Malawi. Over the course of her medical education, she has visited Uganda and other countries with limited medical resources and knew in advance what conditions she might face in Malawi. She reflected that these trips “change the way you think about healthcare and resources.” In addition, during her travels she is struck by her freedom as a female to pursue her professional interests.

Dr. Carolyn Quinsey lectured at Kamuzu Central Hospital

While visiting the hospital, Dr. Quinsey participated in morning report meetings, gave several lectures to house staff, and rounded with the neurosurgery providers to discuss their cases and treatment. She was impressed by how “resourceful they are with what little they have.” While in Lilongwe, Dr. Quinsey also toured a privately-funded urology clinic that offered a controlled, resourced operating room—a stark contrast to the facilities offered by the public hospital.

Dr. Quinsey believes that “all surgical residents need to see something so different to appreciate what we have here to work with. It’s very easy to forget how lucky we are.” She observed that neurosurgery residents are needed in Malawi primarily to help treat hydrocephalus, a condition that results in an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the brain, typically children. The Malawi neurosurgery team is receptive to UNC staff and residents returning and teaching them a newer procedure to treat hydrocephalus with an endoscope, minimizing hardware placement. Rotations would then continue on an ongoing basis, giving any interested attending physicians and residents the opportunity to visit and the Malawi staff a continued mentor presence and relationship.

While hydrocephalus treatment was the goal of this trip and future trips, Dr. Quinsey noted a staggering volume of head injuries, many times a result of trauma sustained from people riding in the back of flat-bed trucks. As the hospital expands their ICU capacity over the next year, this presents a need for neurocritical care training and support, possibly by both neurosurgery and neurology critical care.

Dr. Quinsey returned to Chapel Hill inspired by the Malawi clinicians’ hope, positive attitudes, and resourcefulness. She found them to be eager to learn, improve, and persevere despite difficult access to medications, limited or unavailable nursing support, minimal equipment and malnourished patients. Revealing her own optimism and tenacity, Dr. Quinsey plans to continue serving countries in need of medical support and neurosurgical care.

If you would like to support the Department of Neurosurgery’s efforts in Malawi, please visit our “Make a Gift” page and select the “Neurosurgery Educational Fund (348847).”