J. David Stephens, MD – 2018 (Kenya)

In February 2018 I traveled to Tenwek Hospital which is just outside Bomet, Kenya. It is a large missionary hospital located about a 4 hour drive from Nairobi. The hospital has been caring for patients since the 1950s and has developed into a multi-specialty center for a large geographic area. I spent the majority of my time with my host, Dr. Ben Roberts, a retina-trained ophthalmologist who has been at Tenwek for 12 years, as well as Drs. Troy and Farrah Newman who joined Tenwek about one year ago. 

The week at Tenwek begins with a busy clinic day on Monday on which we admit all of our surgeries for the week (around 25-30). It is impossible to know what will walk through the door that day and patients have often traveled from great distances for evaluation.  Every patient who walks through the door at Tenwek has a problem to treat. The effort it takes to come to clinic means that patients sometimes have to wait until a problem is very advanced until it is seen. The doctors and staff did such an amazing job moving through a busy day and were eager to help in every way (especially language interpretation for me!).

Tuesday through Thursday are spent mostly in the OR doing cataract, retina, glaucoma, and trauma cases among others. We performed many surgeries in my two weeks highlighted by learning manual small incision cataract surgery (MSICS). It was a great learning opportunity for me as I hope to participate in global ophthalmology in my future practice. Getting a solid foundation for MSICS during training is a huge benefit of our Wills residency program and I am thankful for the chance to visit. 

In addition to learning surgical and clinical skills, the time at Tenwek allowed my to experience and learn the great burden of global eye care. So many patients are in need of care but access and resources are limited. I was able to see the incredible benefit of Tenwek to its community, not only in the provision of care, but I think more importantly in education. The eye center is constantly swimming with learners – ophthalmology residents from Nairobi, clinical officers, nursing students, ophthalmic technicians – all eager for training to eventually go serve their community apart from Tenwek. This is where we as U.S. ophthalmologists can have a huge impact on global eye care by training and educating around the world. I was proud to represent Wills and what it has meant and will continue to mean for ophthalmology education worldwide. We even listened to Chiefs’ rounds together on Friday afternoon!

Dr. Roberts was an amazing example to me in our time there. He is kind and caring to his patients on top of his already excellent knowledge and technique. He is slow to become angry or frustrated when things break or do not go as planned, and always looks to fix things on his own. He is constantly working to improve the care of patients at Tenwek. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with and learn from him. 

Thank you to the Wills Alumni Society, Dr. Haller, Joe Bilson, and all the supporting attendings for the opportunity to visit Tenwek through the WIRE program. I had an amazing time and hope to continue representing Wills in global ophthalmology in the future.