Between February 20 and 24, 2017, we were delighted to host 10 David Nott Foundation scholars and the first David Nott Foundation Fellow in London. The scholars were trained by David in war surgery on the course he directs at the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Surgical Training for Austere Environments (STAE).These scholarships are awarded to surgeons who demonstrate great skill, passion and talent for surgery and who will use their surgical skills for the benefit of people in regions afflicted by war and natural disaster. The cost of their tuition, return travel to the UK, accommodation, visas and subsistence are met as part of the scholarship. Our scholars came from countries including India, Mexico, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the UK.
Scholar in Focus: Dr Padma Deskit
Padma Deskit is the first female surgeon from Ladakh, which sits 3,500 meters high in the Himalayas. She is also one of only three full-time surgeons in the district that forms a part of India’ northern-most state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Leh region, home to some of the country’s highest peaks and beautiful glacial lakes, is a barren land where temperatures stay below freezing for five months of the year. Trained in medical colleges across Delhi and Jammu, Dr Deskit always wanted to return home to Leh, where she felt her skills could save more lives. “In a city hospital, you have the comforts of every possible diagnostic gadgets and super-specialty support,” she adds, “However, when working in remote areas such as Leh, where you either have limited access to such facilities or none at all, you are tested every single day.”
Doctors in India’s far-flung regions rarely get the opportunity to enhance their skills. Few of those who do, return to the difficult areas given the lack of modern comforts.
“When I applied to the David Nott Foundation for a scholarship to participate in the STAE course and train at the Royal College of Surgeons, my primary aim was to gain skills to improve my response to catastrophe-induced trauma,” Dr Deskit says, “I would have never managed the financial resources to do this course on my own. I think the course has given me not only the skills but also the confidence to take quick decisions when challenges of trauma injuries come my way.”
For her, the challenges are not limited to the operating theatre.“You have to think on your feet. For instance, I once had to call my husband and learn how to operate the diesel generator, as there was no electricity at the hospital and no staff to help. It was just me and a nurse and the patient – a man who had met with an accident and was bleeding profusely. As the nurse tended to him by the light of a torch, I had to learn how to get the back up electricity going.” Dr Deskit said, smiling.
She has even learnt how to drive the hospital van for emergency visits to patients. “We can’t always rely on the local staff, sometimes they have to travel so far to get to work. It is very important that we are self sufficient, beyond the curriculum of medicine.”
When not at the Sonam Nurbu Memorial Government Hospital treating her patients, Dr Deskit travels to even more remote villages in the region, including areas along the India-Pakistan border, to run medical aid and awareness camps.In August 2008, she jumped at the opportunity to join the Indian army in resuscitating and evacuating over 400 people trapped in subzero temperatures in Khardung La Pass, one of the world’s highest motorable road, after heavy snowfall caused landslides.
Dr Deskit hopes to make a difference in surgical best practices in her region where her patients are often “poor and neglected.” Since 2010, she has been associated with several local NGOs to provide surgical care to economically weaker patients who have no healthcare support. She is also promoting breast cancer awareness in Ladakh.
It has been a long week of training at the Royal College of Surgeons and as Dr Deskit packs her bags to go home, she has something on her mind.“My seven year old son wants me to bring him a magnifying glass from London.”