Operation Smile scaled

Women in Medicine. Leading a Generation.

This March, coinciding with International Women’s Day, Operation Smile is conducting its first international medical mission comprised entirely of female volunteers.  The mission to Morocco will celebrate the thousands of female medical volunteers who help to ensure that Operation Smile delivers the highest level of surgical care to patients affected by cleft conditions around the world. Operation Smile wants to inspire people everywhere to pursue careers in medicine whilst demonstrating the lasting impact their female volunteers have had on its programmes.  The team in Morocco will engage in mentorship, training and education activities.  Here, one of those volunteers, Nurhayati Lubis, a Consultant Anaesthetist from the UK, tells ParentFolk about her work with Operation Smile and the medical mission to Morocco.

You’ve been on several medical missions with Operation Smile – tell us about them:

I first got involved with Operation Smile back in 2012 when I was a Junior Doctor doing my Anaesthetist training.  My first mission was to the Philippines and I’ve since been on seven missions in total, so the All Women’s Mission in Oujda will be number eight. 

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on a medical mission?

I remember a little girl who confidently walked into the operating theatre wearing a tiara with a big smile on her face. She has already undergone multiple surgeries for her cleft lip and palate and was coming for a revision surgery. It may not seem like a momentous event for most people but the fact that she is confident in our care and her bravery of leaving her family behind with a smile on her face, reflects to me the essence of what Operation Smile strives for. Often children especially can have a traumatic experience in hospital and are scared of us doctors. Unlike in the UK, parents are not allowed to be with their children during the induction of anaesthesia (because of infection control) and it is scary for the child to be surrounded by strangers. Operation Smile always goes the extra mile to support the children and everyone tries to make the environment as child friendly and fun as possible.

What do you get personally from your work with Operation Smile?

It gives me the opportunity to work with different professionals from a variety of different backgrounds. Sometimes in the NHS you don’t get to mix with all of the different professions as it’s segmented in terms of the patient care pathway.  On a mission with Operation Smile, we are all working closely together – we screen the patients together, we treat the patients together and we’re all involved with the after care. It’s a much more holistic way of working – you all learn from each other, everyone has their own role but you can see what your colleague is doing and the final result, and that’s invaluable.

A huge benefit of my work with Operation Smile is that is allows me to maintain my skill set of dealing with paediatric patients. Working with colleagues from across the globe often results in stimulating discussions on different healthcare systems across the world and how we can learn best practices from each other. That’s something that I can take back to the NHS with fresh eyes. 

Who have you been inspired by on previous medical missions with Operation Smile?

Operation Smile brings together women with a huge variety of skill sets, from surgeons to speech therapists to fundraisers.  It’s hugely inspiring to see women with such a range of skills, all working together.

pic to go alongside the box out operation smile

What do you think is the most important impact of your work with Operation Smile?

I think it’s the legacy Operation Smile leaves behind, establishing a local medical team who can continue the good work once the mission is over. I’ve seen this first-hand in Nicaragua, Ghana and the Philippines.  Whilst the objective of the mission was to treat the children, the aim was also to train and empower the local teams of nurses, doctors and surgeons to continue to provide cleft surgery locally once the mission is over and also to benefit other surgeries too, aside from cleft.

What is Operation Smile?It is estimated that every three minutes, a child is born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. Those who do survive may be unable to eat, speak, socialise or smile. In many cases, their parents can’t afford to give them the surgeries they need. 

Operation Smile is an international medical charity, founded in 1982. They have provided free surgeries to children and young adults born with a cleft lip or cleft palate in the world for over three and half decades. 

Surgery typically takes just 45 minutes for an expert procedure and because Operation Smile’s skilled network of medical professionals are 100% volunteer based, it costs only £150. Donors can be reassured their money is going towards the patient’s surgery costs.

A small amount of money can make a big difference in a child’s life, and that of their family, with Operation Smile.

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