THE CLINICAL CONCEPT
Pacific Northwest Surgical Outreach (PNSO) was created following the experiences of general surgeon Dr. Jason Cundiff in Haiti immediately following the catastrophic earthquake in 2010. It was his impromptu participation with a quickly thrown together surgical team that traveled to the devastated island nation that led to his realization that small, well-motivated surgical teams operating in unconventional circumstances could be surprisingly effective. Working in a field trauma hospital based in an old primary care clinic facility and staffed by an international collection of aid workers, Dr. Cundiff and his team were able to perform surgery for ten consecutive days with minimal equipment and supplies. More importantly, the team found that by strictly adhering to focused protocols; such as pre- and postoperative antibiotic, strict control of the operative sterile field, and adequate irrigation of surgical wounds; that lower rates of complications and infection than expected in the circumstances could be achieved. This revelation led to the application of the concept to elective general surgical procedures and is the main foundation and backbone behind the PNSO clinical philosophy.
Most surgical missions operate out of previously existing hospitals in the host country, but PNSO has the capability to travel to isolated locales where no general surgery capabilities exist and set up completely functioning operating suites. With the exception of I.V. fluids and oxygen, which are both unable to be shipped on commercial airliners, PNSO has a well-established protocol for transporting a functioning operating room halfway across the globe. This approach allows the organization to function in areas with no equitable resources and provide elective general surgical care to populations otherwise without access. The basic requirements of on-site pre- and postsurgical primary care to care for postoperative patients following our departure and the availability of in-country I.V. fluids and oxygen are nonnegotiable and obviously confirmed prior to our acceptance of a surgical site for one of our expeditions. Everything else arrives with the team.
THE HUMANITARIAN CONCEPT
The obvious primary focus of the organization is to provide surgical care to our patients across the globe, but an equally important aspect to our purpose is the personal growth and experiences we can offer to individuals involved in our expeditions. A large proportion of our team members are students of various types and it’s essential to the success of the mission that they contribute. A PNSO surgical expedition is an experience where boundaries and comfort zones are pushed. Under the capable supervision of experienced international medical professionals, students and non-medical team members alike are asked to push themselves to contribute and elevate their performance, often beyond what these individuals thought they were capable of. The result is the revelation and development of confidence that only comes from ‘doing’ and not necessarily ‘watching’. There is a solemn aspect to committing yourself to humanitarian pursuits and PNSO team members like to think that those providing the care on our surgical expeditions benefit just as profoundly as do our patients with newly repaired hernias, it's a totally symbiotic experience and its what makes the experience so special.