ne thing he said hit me so hard I still remember to this day; I hope I never forget it. He held up his Bible and said, “American physicians have accepted the idea that they deserve to be in the upper middle class, that they should have a comfortable life in a large house with a three-car garage.” Pointing to his Bible, he said, “That’s not in here!”
The room was silent. It was a very inspiring talk. I had already felt a desire to serve overseas but this was the first I’d heard of how to actually get started. This was a major turning point for me, the moment my future as a surgeon became clear.
I was in my second year of medical school and lucky enough to attend one of the largest medical missions conferences held every year in Louisville KY. One of the speakers was a general surgeon named Dr. David Thompson. I had never heard him but hearing him share his personal experiences growing up in the mission field in Vietnam and Cambodia was captivating. He had been serving at a hospital in Gabon, in west Africa, for many years as the only surgeon, and had felt the burden of seeing so many people suffering day after day without the help they needed because of the lack of trained medical professionals.
He noticed that there was no one to take the place of missionary surgeons who were retiring and heading back to their home country. From this came his vision of training surgeons in Africa, and that’s how the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) was born. PAACS has grown and developed a lot since those days. It now has established surgery residency programs at 11 different hospitals across the continent
What attracted me to training is the exponential results. - the whole “teach a man to fish” philosophy. One doctor can only help so many people, but one doctor training a bunch of other doctors can help a whole country given enough time.
I knew I needed to learn surgery in order to be able to go serve, so that’s what I focused on. After three years of my general surgery residency, I emailed Dr. Thompson and just said, 'Hey' and told him I was interested in serving with PAACS. He was very gracious and invited us out to his hospital in Gabon. My wife and I spent a month there during my fourth year of residency, using our vacation time to go work with the residents and with him.
Near the end of our time there in Gabon I was invited to lunch with Dr. Bruce Stefus, the then-CEO of PAACS. After we sat down I just looked at him and said "Where do you need me?" It turns out Ethiopia was the place with the greatest need. Becca and I began to pray and think about that. We were able to talk to and meet the orthopedic surgeon field director at the hospital in Ethiopia, as well as the now retired general surgeon who had founded the hospital in Ethiopia. The more we learned about it the more we felt like that's where we were needed and that's where we were going to go.
I was to train surgeons from all over Africa in the PAACS residency program. It was modeled after the training we have here in America where applicants are accepted into a five year training program and then they graduate as licensed surgeons. My time would be spent running that program while also teaching, giving lectures and attending conferences – all while taking care of patients in our teaching hospital.
Never a dull moment, that’s for sure! And that was how we ended up serving in Ethiopia for six years.