When Anna Mrelashvili, M.D., came to Mayo Clinic for a residency in pediatric neurology, she was looking forward to continuing her education and advancing her career. But she was also looking back — back to her homeland, the Republic of Georgia, where she tells us "pediatric care is nonexistent in some parts of the country." Dr. Mrelashvili wanted to help change that. And five years later, there's no question that she has made a difference.
It all started, Dr. Mrelashvili says, after she made a presentation to what was then Mayo Clinic's Program on Underserved and Global Health (now dubbed Mayo Clinic Abroad). After hearing the challenges the country faced, committee members, she says, were "enthused about having Mayo go to my country." So enthused that they've gone back, again and again (and again). After an initial trip led by Dr. Mrelashvili in 2012, Mayo Clinic has sent medical teams to Georgia three to four times each year to provide education to Georgian physicians. The goal is to help improve neonatal and critical care medicine through a train-the-trainer model.
"Many developing nations have high rates of neonatal mortality, with most cases caused by conditions that are easily treated here in the U.S.," says William Carey, M.D., a pediatric neonatologist. The good news, Dr. Carey says, is that the solutions are "fairly low-cost and easy to implement at a system level." That is, if "the right education is provided." The "right education" includes topics like newborn resuscitation, brain injury and infection prevention, and management of newborn heart disease. There's also a course called Fundamentals of Critical Care Support, which has changed how physicians "assess and treat patients," according to Beth Ballinger, M.D., a trauma surgeon, who offered her thoughts from Georgia, where she's training new course instructors as we write.
The efforts have improved care "on a system and soon nationwide basis," Dr. Ballinger tells us. And she says it's exciting to see the instructors share what they've learned. Working to improve care in Georgia is "incredibly gratifying work, says Chris Colby, M.D., chair of Neonatology. It reminds him, he says, of "why I went into medicine in the first place, to serve and help others." Dr. Carey agrees and says that although he's had "many incredible experiences," in his career, "none have been as meaningful as the work we have done in Georgia." And he notes that he and his colleagues are "all extremely grateful that Mayo supports us in our work."
Perhaps no one is more grateful than Dr. Mrelashvili. "It's just the most fulfilling thing to see," she says of watching the partnership grow. She hopes to soon head back to Georgia, joining a Mayo team this fall when they travel to a "tiny little town" called Telavi. That town also happens to be her hometown. "My parents are still there," she tells us. "It's where it all started."
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