American College of Surgeons honors three members with Surgical Volunteerism Awards

CHICAGO (October 6, 2020; 6:30 pm CDT): Today three surgeons received the 2020 American College of Surgeons (ACS)/Pfizer Surgical Volunteerism Awards in recognition of their selfless efforts as volunteer surgeons who provide care to medically underserved patients.

The extraordinary contributions of these three award recipients were recognized during the virtual ACS Clinical Congress 2020. The awards are determined by the ACS Board of Governors Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup and are administered through the ACS Operation Giving Back program.

The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Volunteerism Award recognizes ACS Fellows and members who are committed to giving back to society through significant contributions to surgical care as volunteers. This year, volunteerism awards were granted to three surgeons.

Aaron Epstein, MD, a general surgery resident at the University at Buffalo, N.Y., received the Resident Volunteerism Award for his work as founder and president of the not-for-profit medical humanitarian organization, Global Surgical and Medical Support Group (GSMSG).

Dr. Epstein founded the GSMSG in 2015, while still a medical student. He has personally led more than a dozen deployments of medical and surgical teams of up to 50 professionals to Iraq, where they treated victims of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Since 2015, GSMSG teams in Iraq have completed hundreds of major operations, as well as tended to thousands of patients who have come from as far west as Damascus to the Iranian border to the east. In a single deployment in 2016, the GSMSG surgical team provided more major operations than nearly all major foreign governments in Kurdish territory that year.

Since the group’s founding, GSMSG training programs have taught more than 2,000 local medics and more than 200 local nurses, and staff have led training sessions attended by more than 500 local physicians and surgeons. Dr. Epstein also works to include women medical and surgical providers in the trainings to provide opportunities for this group that historically has been without a presence in local health care.

Domestically, Dr. Epstein has directed the GSMSG’s response to hurricanes and a recent deployment to New York, N.Y., to help staff at the Ryan Larkin Field Hospital set up in Manhattan from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis through the height of the pandemic. GSMSG team members have responded to the COVID-19 crisis elsewhere in the U.S., as well as internationally, including helping to staff an improvised intensive care unit for patients in the St. Martin Islands. Dr. Epstein’s efforts with GSMSG, in conjunction with HHI Corporation, have also enabled the deployment of a multi-tractor trailer triage unit to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami to assist in managing the caseload in South Florida.

Robert Riviello, MD, MPH, FACS, a trauma, burn, and acute care surgeon in Boston, Mass., received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his work to improve access to medical care for populations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Riviello, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston and associate professor of surgery and global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), has been involved in global health and surgical care from early in his career. After joining BWH, Dr. Riviello joined the Center for Surgery and Public Health (CSPH) and the newly formed HMS Program in Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC); volunteering his time and efforts through these organizations provided the platform for his engagement in global health. Since then, Dr. Riviello has dedicated his career to improving surgical access and quality for vulnerable people, splitting his time over the last decade between BWH and sub-Saharan Africa, strengthening surgical services, surgical training programs, non-technical skills for surgery, and providing mentorship to the CSPH’s and PGSSC’s global surgery fellows.

Dr. Riviello was introduced to Rwanda through Partners In Health, a non-governmental organization committed to social justice and health care for the underserved. He has since worked in Rwanda with PIH; the Rwanda Surgical Society; the University of Rwanda (UR), Kigali; and, most recently, the University of Global Health Equity, where he has been selected to be the inaugural chair of global surgery. From 2011–2018, Dr. Riviello co-directed Harvard’s engagement in the Rwanda Human Resources for Health Program, an initiative of the Rwandan Ministry of Health meant to train health practitioners and scale up health care providers in the country. These collaborative efforts revitalized training programs in general surgery, anesthesiology, and gynecology, as well as supported the launch of new UR training programs in orthopaedics, urology, neurosurgery, and plastic surgery. Dr. Riviello also served as a faculty surgeon at the University Training Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda; associate to the head of department of surgery of UR; and liaison the PIH-Rwanda for surgery.

Arthur L. Trask, MD, FACS, a retired general surgeon in Springfield, Mo., received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his 30 years of service providing essential surgical care for the population of Haiti.

Pignon, a rural town in the mountain area of central Haiti eight hours by road from Port-au-Prince, became the epicenter of Dr. Trask’s surgical volunteerism efforts after he visited with Inova Fairfax Hospital colleagues in 1990. Since then, Dr. Trask has continued to lead a surgical team to Haiti yearly or biannually, depending on local factors, to serve and improve the quality of care for the population. Visits last 10–14 days with clinic and OR time under the instruction and coordination of Dr. Trask and his cohort of surgical contacts.

Dr. Trask began his surgical volunteerism work by providing surgical and clinical services, but he found that needs could be better served with designing an educational service coupled with existing efforts. He recruited experienced nurses to help establish a local nursing school so the Haitian people could eventually provide care to their own.

After the earthquake of 2010, Dr. Trask recognized a need for disaster preparedness and supplies in Pignon, assisting in the construction of a warehouse to hold dry goods and non-perishable supplies to be used. Dr. Trask continued his disaster relief surgical volunteerism efforts in Jacmel, a coastal town that was affected by the earthquake, through the establishment of a hospital by the Community Coalition for Haiti, founded by Dr. Trask’s team and a Baptist church in Vienna, Va. The clinic houses multiple, fully functional ORs that serve patients throughout the region.

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