Prakash Neupane, MD, a 2018 Golden Apple Award recipient, first heard about Health Volunteers Overseas during the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting several years ago. However, he was unsure if he would be able to complete an HVO assignment due to his already packed volunteer schedule.
“I was already devoting my time, whenever I had extra time, to help with education and training in Nepal,” he explained during a recent phone interview.
Dr. Neupane was born in eastern Nepal and lived there until he completed medical school. He moved to the US for further training in the early 1990s, and has often returned to his native country as a volunteer, primarily working in Kathmandu. He focuses his volunteer efforts on the education of the local cancer care workforce, engaging in activities ranging from attending clinics to organizing conferences to delivering didactic lectures. Even before learning about HVO, Dr. Neupane was a firm believer in education-based medical volunteerism.
“If I go and teach people for a day, or two days, or ten days, or whatever I can do, that will translate into a lot more learning and dissemination of knowledge. It multiplies, and they go and teach somebody else . . . You might not see the outcome right there, but it is long-lasting.”
Building on this philosophy with a goal of expanding the educational resources available to Nepal’s cancer care workforce, Dr. Neupane encouraged the National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS) and the affiliated Bir Hospital, both in Kathmandu, to submit a request for support to HVO. He conducted the site assessment for the project in 2014, and now serves as Project Director.
The primary goal of the project is to improve the NAMS oncology residency program. Dr. Neupane’s own decision to specialize in hematology/oncology was influenced by the drive to pursue new knowledge and continuing education that he observed in many of his colleagues in the field.
“Their approach in terms of reading literature and digging stuff out of the library before making a final decision on the patient, that self-learning motivation influenced me to go into hematology/oncology,” he explained.
Now, he endeavors to inspire this same appreciation for ongoing education among oncology residents and faculty at NAMS through activities such as tumor boards and journal clubs, as well as clinical and didactic lectures.
“At the beginning the new residents were very nervous, they did not know what to expect from volunteers,” he reflected. “Over time I have seen a lot of changes . . . I think the quality of training has improved. The residents are learning.”
Dr. Neupane acknowledged that changes in learning style and comprehension are not as easily measured as improved patient outcomes.
“This is not something you can . . . put in a diagram or chart or graph. It is something you really have to feel.” However, he is confident that his work over the past decade made a significant impact. “I do not know how many people I taught or how many lives were impacted, but I know I did it. You may not see the outcome right there, but it is long-lasting.”
One way Dr. Neupane is reassured of the impact of his work is through the ongoing relationships he has established with many of his colleagues in Nepal.
“Many of the trainees that I met are now practicing physicians there. Because of their resources and their level of training, they always ask me questions, so I get tons of emails about individual patients and cases.”
When responding to these emails, in addition to sharing his own expertise, Dr. Neupane always attaches a current journal article on the topic. “I have the opportunity to continue to educate them no matter where they are in their lives or in medical practice,” he stated.
Dr. Neupane’s impact on his colleagues in Nepal is further evidenced by the fact that he was nominated to receive the 2018 Golden Apple Award by the On-Site Coordinator for HVO’s oncology training project in Kathmandu—Bishnu Paudel, MD. In nominating Dr. Neupane, Dr. Paudel cited the academic advancements that have been made as a result of his volunteer efforts, and described the international network of colleagues Dr. Neupane has helped build.
“I was really honored and excited to receive the nomination from somebody that I have worked with for several years,” Dr. Neupane said.
Dr. Neupane also incorporates the lessons he has learned through his volunteer experience into his teaching activities here in the US.
“I always ask my residents, ‘What would you do if you were in a low-resource setting?’” He added that, “low-resource setting doesn’t have to mean 10,000 miles away. There is a lot of variation within the US.”
Regardless of the location, Dr. Neupane is confident that education-based volunteerism is the right approach to improve the quality and availability of care in the absence of adequate material and human resources. When asked what message he would like to share with his colleagues about the program in Nepal and the benefits of volunteering, he said:
“Help me to build this program, and there are also a lot of other places around the world that you can help.”