On a blustery Boston afternoon last October, Derrick Bengo wrapped his coat around him as he shook the hands of ASH members Drs. Walter “Sunny” Dzik and Aliyah Sohani. Having come from the equatorial nation of Uganda, Mr. Bengo was unprepared for Boston’s chilly autumn. Mr. Bengo came to Boston for six weeks to study with Drs. Dzik and Sohani at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as part of ASH’s Visitor Training Program (VTP). The program funds opportunities for doctors and scientists in developing countries to train on a specific topic or technique under the mentorship of an ASH member anywhere in the world. When the participants finish their training, they return to their home countries to implement and share the skills they have learned.
Mr. Bengo applied to learn about the interpretation of peripheral blood smears and differentiation of leukemias by histochemical staining of peripheral blood smears. His goal for the training was to gain proficiency in interpretation of peripheral blood smears and the correlation of peripheral blood smear findings with multi-parameter CBC results and, when indicated, with bone marrow findings.
“I first met Sunny in 2007, when the ASH teams from Health Volunteers Overseas came to visit Mulago Hospital,” said Mr. Bengo, referring to the main referral hospital in Kampala, Uganda, where he is a senior laboratory technologist. Dr. Dzik and his colleagues at MGH returned to Uganda in 2010 and encouraged Mr. Bengo to apply for the VTP. Mr. Bengo had high expectations for himself and the program. “My dream is to become a good hematologist for all of these children down here in Uganda, so I have to learn to fly with the eagles. It’s a golden opportunity to have hands-on experience on the hematologic techniques that we just read about and can’t actually perform. With these new skills, I’ll be able to teach laboratory technologists in Uganda, since I’m the main trainer for the laboratory training schools.”
As Mr. Bengo’s host mentor at MGH, Dr. Dzik was responsible for working with Mr. Bengo to prepare the training proposal and budget. After Mr. Bengo was accepted into the program, Dr. Dzik worked with Mr. Bengo to secure housing, airfare, and his visa.
The benefits of the program extend not only to the participant, but also to the hosts who gain valuable insight into facets of hematology they would not have had without the cross-cultural interaction. Dr. Sohani worked with Mr. Bengo each day in the lab and describes their interaction as a learning experience for her just as much as it was for Mr. Bengo:
“Derrick’s morphological skills were incredibly strong; it was eye-opening for the lab techs to see how important such skills are in settings where there is no easy access to flow cytometry or molecular genetic studies. Derrick’s visit to MGH made us appreciate how much we all can learn and benefit from others whose background and set of experiences differ from our own.”
Mr. Bengo left Boston with a renewed sense of dedication to his work at Mulago Hospital. He will continue to report back to Drs. Dzik and Sohani to demonstrate how he is implementing the skills he learned at MGH.
The Visitor Training Program is open to medical professionals in developing countries. ASH also encourages members to volunteer to serve as host mentors. The application and mentor volunteer forms are both available on the ASH website at http://hematology.org/Awards/Visitor-Training-Program/2196.aspx.
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