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Investing in Pediatrics Education in Bhutan

Dr. Leila Srour has been a member and volunteer since 2014, when she crossed paths with HVO while working on a project in Uganda. HVO’s education-focused values and mission appealed to her, and she decided to volunteer with our pediatrics project in Indonesia. Since then, she has volunteered in Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, and Bhutan and served on HVO’s pediatric steering committee (currently as committee chair), helping guide the development of the program. She has returned to Bhutan six times and was one of the very first volunteers to return after pandemic restrictions were lifted.  

Dr. Srour has enjoyed getting to know a variety of countries, institutions, and colleagues, believing that “each assignment presents unique opportunities for personal growth and development.” She has formed lasting relationships with the doctors and nurses she has worked with and says, “It has been a highlight of my experience, and some have even become my friends. Witnessing their growth and progress over the years has been a true privilege, and I am proud to have played a small role in the improvements they have made in the services they provide.” 

One such friendship she forged was with Dr. Gitanjali Lamichaney, chief pediatric resident at Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, Bhutan. Dr. Gitanjali found Dr. Srour’s mentorship invaluable: “Personally, when I joined residency, the first three months were really difficult for me, and I almost quit. But Dr. Leila came along, and pulled me through, inspired me to continue taking up pediatrics as a specialty and here I am, about to be done with my residency and in love with pediatrics like never before. She’s been my moral support throughout all these years, and I am sure she’s done the same for the others who have graduated as she’s one of our first and oldest HVOs. She loves teaching and helping residents.” 

Dr. Gitanjali was awarded a Wyss scholarship which allowed her to attend the 2023 International Pediatric Association & Indian Academy of Pediatrics conference in Gujarat, India, accompanied by Dr. Srour. Dr. Gitanjali presented her research to over 6,000 pediatricians and residents who attended. Dr. Srour says, “Dr. Gitanjali’s research presentation was outstanding, and we had the privilege of joining in on informative sessions and presentations delivered by both Indian and international pediatric sub-specialists.” 

Dr. Srour has had the pleasure of seeing several other young trainees grow and move on to new career opportunities as well. Two physicians she met during their residency have returned to JDWNRH as pediatric consultants after working in district hospitals while three others are pursuing fellowships in India, specializing in neonatology, nephrology, and pediatric critical care. 

Both Dr. Srour and Dr. Gitanjali hope that more pediatricians with specialized expertise will volunteer with the Bhutan project. The residency program is relatively young, and there is little subspecialty education available. Dr. Gitanjali says, “We would like to continue having HVOs come and help the residents, especially with academics and teaching and research writing and publication…HVOs are an asset for us. They really contribute towards academics and teaching for interns and residents…Also, we would like them to support us to attend conferences and help us keep up with the rest of the world.”   

The impact of HVO volunteers goes beyond their physical assignments in-country. “Once we know them, we keep in touch and consult our difficult patients via emails, video and phone calls with the HVOs who have subspecialized in different fields,” says Dr. Gitanjali. “We have recently received a lot of email correspondence from Dr. Dorey Glenn and Dr. Lucia Wiethoff-Ubrig for our difficult pediatric nephrology and neurology cases which was of immense help for the management of our little patients. We also have scheduled classes and Zoom lectures from the HVOs who are interested. We have had a series of lectures in nephrology with support from Dr. Dorey and HVO which has augmented our patient care.” 
If you are a pediatrician interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities in Bhutan and other locations, contact HVO recruitment specialist Natalie Cary at n.cary@hvousa.org or visit our website at https://hvousa.org/specialty-areas/pediatrics/. 

UPDATE: Dr. Gitanjali has now completed her residency, graduated as a pediatrician, and is working as the only pediatrician in Phuntsholing District Hospital. She hopes to continue her professional development in the future by fellowship training in a vital sub-specialty.