UofL Physicians surgeon Dr. Frank Miller leads Malawi training project

Published on February 3, 2012

Frank Miller, M.D., trauma surgeon with University of Louisville Physicians and professor of surgery at the University of Louisville, recently returned from overseeing a Physicians for Peace medical training project at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. Physicians for Peace, an international non-profit based in Norfolk, Va., has recently assumed responsibility for recruiting volunteers to serve as surgical faculty overseeing the Malawi hospital’s Surgical Intern Training (SIT) Project. Dr. Miller was the first volunteer surgeon sent by Physicians for Peace to lead the training at this large (1,000+ bed) hospital.

The SIT Project is designed to train interns and registrars (known as residents in the United States) in basic surgical techniques. According to Physicians for Peace President and CEO, Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers (USAF-Ret.), “Due to the shortage of trained surgeons in Malawi, this project is a critical training ground for recent graduates and of the Malawi College of Medicine. We are very thankful to Dr. Miller for his volunteer service and for sharing his surgical craft to ensure that future Malawi surgeons have the skills needed to provide surgical care to their patients.”

The project has a dedicated clinic and operating space, along with a clinical officer. Physicians for Peace surgical faculty will typically accept a 3-month volunteer assignment. The role of the volunteer surgeon is to provide hands on training and guidance to the interns through this clinic.

Identifying qualified surgical faculty for the SIT Project is not easy. First the surgeon must be available for a 3 month period. In addition, Physicians for Peace is looking for surgeons who will focus on the education and training aspects, not only on clinical care. Finally, a successful medical volunteer must be culturally sensitive and be able to adapt to the conditions of the local country and hospital. Dr. Miller was able to bring each of these strengths to the project.

“Dr. Miller has enjoyed a distinguished career as a surgeon and educator in the Department of Surgery at University of Louisville School of Medicine for several decades. In addition to treating patients with great skill and compassion even in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, Dr. Miller is a professor who uses his surgical expertise to train generations of surgeons,” said Dr. Kelly McMasters, Ben A. Reid Sr., M.D. Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Louisville. “He has touched the lives of innumerable patients and students.”

Dr. Miller, who has a long history of international medical service in Tanzania, Vietnam, Ghana and Nigeria, learned of the Physicians for Peace opportunity through the American College of Surgeons’ Operation Giving Back Program. Operation Giving Back encourages humanitarian service by helping surgeons find volunteer opportunities best suited to their expertise and interests, both in the United States and internationally.

Despite his extensive international experience, Dr. Miller notes: “This surgical faculty rotation was different from all my other international medical experiences. There is a tremendous need for experienced surgical faculty, because this large hospital is where the most complicated cases in Malawi are transferred. I saw cases I would never see in the US.” Dr. Miller was actively involved in teaching, and explained: “The medical students were enthusiastic and wanted to learn, just like medical students in the west.”

Physicians for Peace transforms lives by training, supporting and empowering healthcare professionals working with the world’s underserved populations. Since 1989, volunteers have conducted medical missions in more than 60 countries.