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November 13, 2012

Volunteer efforts in Rwanda win recognition

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Nov. 9, 2012 – A University of Virginia Health System surgical resident’s volunteer efforts in Rwanda – part of a lifetime of helping others – has earned her a prestigious award from the American College of Surgeons.

Robin T. Petroze, MD, recently returned from two years in Rwanda assessing the quantity and availability of surgical care. She went from town to town, visiting remote areas and major urban centers, often traveling along rough and rutty roads to determine what was needed and where the need was greatest. In addition, she developed a trauma registry at the two university teaching hospitals.

In recognition of all her efforts, the university where she was based, the National University of Rwanda, named her a research fellow in 2011. That spoke to the many relationships she had built and the trust she had earned. Now her work has been further recognized by the American College of Surgeons and Pfizer, which have presented her with the Surgical Volunteerism Resident Award.

“Volunteer outreach is something I’ve done since I was in grade school and high school, and it really became something I was looking into long-term in college. I did a lot of outreach work in the homeless population in Lexington, Ky., with my church there, and did spring break service trips,” Petroze says. “What struck me was that I always came away with a lot more than I gave.”

Far-reaching outreach

After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2003, Petroze spent a year in rural Jamaica teaching English and science. “That experience was, I think, what solidified that once I go to medical school, this is what I want to do long-term,” the Fort Mitchell, Ky., native says. “The opportunities that the kids there had were definitely different than what I had.”

She continued her volunteer efforts while attending the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, working in clinics in underserved areas. She also went to rural Tanzania with the Cincinnati-based Village Life Outreach Project, her first experience with medical work abroad.

Arriving in Rwanda

After arriving at UVA, she traveled to the Dominican Republic with Medical Ministry International to do surgical outreach. In 2009, she made her first trip to Rwanda with UVA trauma surgeon and research mentor J. Forrest Calland, MD. That propelled her to make the move to Rwanda.

“The best part of working internationally, working in Rwanda, is meeting people,” Petroze says. “And not just meeting people from Rwanda, but meeting surgeons from all over the world and finding common interests and common stories. It’s amazing how small the world can be.” 

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