Trauma electives in South Africa provide valuable training for international surgeons
Background. Trauma electives in South Africa (SA) are common and many foreign-based surgeons have undertaken such electives over the past 3 decades. Despite this, little academic attention has been paid to these electives, which remain largely informal and unstructured. This project aims to redress this deficit.
Objectives. To investigate and document the extent of trauma clinical electives and to assess their impact on the careers of foreign surgeons who have undertaken such electives.
Methods. A mixed methods-style questionnaire was compiled, which sought to document the demographics of surgeons undertaking an SA trauma clinical elective, the trauma clinical experience they had prior to the elective, as well as the volume of experience they acquired during the elective.
Results. Sixty questionnaires were sent out and 21 were completed. There were 16 male and 5 female respondents. Only 17 had undertaken a formal trauma rotation before their elective in SA. The mean number of major resuscitations managed prior to rotating through surgery departments in SA was 15, and the mean number managed during a 12-month rotation in SA was 204. It would take each respondent 14 years in their country of origin to acquire an equivalent level of exposure to major resuscitation. During the year before their elective, each surgeon had been exposed to a mean number of the following: 0.5 gunshot wounds (GSWs), 2 stab wounds (SWs), 0.1 blast injuries and 19 road traffic accidents (RTAs). The equivalent mean number for their year in SA was 106 GSWs, 153 SWs, 4 blast injuries and 123 RTAs. The time necessary to achieve a similar level of exposure to their SA experience if they had remained in their country of origin was 213 years for GSWs, 73 years for SWs, 41 years for blast injuries and 7 years for RTAs. Compared with their SA elective, it would take each respondent 3 years to insert as many central venous lines, 9 years to perform the same number of tube thoracostomies, 9 years to manage as many surgical airways, 18 years to explore as many SWs of the neck and 93 years to explore as many GSWs of the neck. Furthermore, it would take 33 years to see and perform as many laparotomies for SWs to the abdomen, 374 years to perform an equivalent number of GSWs to the abdomen and 34 years of experience to perform as many damage-control laparotomies in their countries of origin. In terms of vascular trauma, it would take 23 years to see as many vascular injuries secondary to SWs and 77 years to see an equivalent number of vascular injuries secondary to GSWs.
Conclusions. A trauma clinical elective in SA provides an unparalleled exposure to almost all forms of trauma in conjunction with a welldeveloped academic support programme. Formalising these trauma electives might allow for the development of exchange programmes for SA trainees who wish to acquire international exposure to advanced general surgical training.