The American College of Surgeons (ACS) Board of Governors Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup has announced the recipients of the 2020 ACS/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Awards and Surgical Volunteerism Awards. As in previous years, the workgroup received exceptional nominations, reflecting the remarkable commitment of ACS Fellows to providing care to underserved populations.
A summary of the accomplishments of the three recipients of this year’s awards follows.
Robert Riviello, MD, MPH, FACS, a trauma, burn, and acute care surgeon in Boston, MA, will receive an International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his work in improving access to medical care for populations in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Riviello, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and associate professor of surgery and of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, began his career in global medical service as a Fulbright International Fellow in Global Surgery at Centro Evangélico de Medicina in Lubango, Angola. There, he helped to open the hospital and provide broad-based general surgery services.
Subsequently, Dr. Riviello worked with Partners in Health in Rwanda, as well as local Rwandan medical organizations, to co-direct Harvard’s engagement in the Rwanda Human Resources for Health Program, meant to increase local health provider skill and scale up services in the country. These collaborative efforts revitalized training programs in general surgery, anesthesiology, and gynecology, and supported the launch of new University of Rwanda training programs in orthopaedics, urology, neurosurgery and, most recently, plastic surgery. During these years, Dr. Riviello also served as a faculty surgeon at the University Training Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda; associate to the head of the department of surgery of University of Rwanda; and surgery liaison for Partners In Health-Rwanda.
Arthur L. Trask, MD, FACS, a retired general surgeon in Springfield, MO, will receive an International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his 30 years of service providing essential surgical care in Haiti. Pignon, a rural town in the mountain area of central Haiti, became the epicenter of his surgical volunteerism efforts after visiting there with Inova Fairfax Hospital, VA, colleagues in 1990. Since then, Dr. Trask has continued to lead a surgical team to Haiti annually or biannually, depending on the weather and political climate, to serve and improve the quality of care for the population. Visits last 10–14 days, with clinic and operating room time under the instruction and coordination of Dr. Trask and his cohort of surgical contacts. Dr. Trask began his surgical volunteerism work by providing basic surgical and clinical services, but in time, he found that patient needs could be better served with designing an educational service coupled with existing local efforts.
Dr. Trask and his colleagues also provided surgical and capacity-building services during Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, from Pignon to coastal Jacmel. His work has produced sustained medical supply partnerships and rotating visits from surgeons in Northern Virginia.
Aaron Epstein, MD, a general surgery resident at the University at Buffalo, NY, will receive a Resident Volunteerism Award for his work as founder and president of the not-for-profit medical humanitarian organization Global Surgical and Medical Support Group. Dr. Epstein’s previous training in national security and defense, as well as his experience working with governments in the Middle East, gave him perspective on the medical difficulties facing conflict-displaced refugees, and he pursued a medical career to effect change for these people. He created the GSMSG shortly after beginning medical school at Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, with the eventual goal of creating health care capacity in troubled geopolitical hotspots. GSMSG training programs have trained more than 2,000 local medics and more than 200 local nurses, and held training sessions for more than 500 local physicians and surgeons in Middle Eastern locales.
Dr. Epstein also has personally led more than a dozen deployments of medical and surgical personnel to provide surgical services for affected populations in combat zones in the Middle East. Domestically, GSMSG has provided medical capacity and support in response to hurricanes and COVID-19 outbreaks in New York City and Miami, FL.