In this Q&A series we will be speaking with some of the people who help to drive the work of Project Harar. We had a chat with one of our doctors, Calum, who has volunteered with Project Harar for five years!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a Plastic Surgery registrar in Scotland, currently taking time out of training to undertake a period of research at the University of Oxford. This is my 5th year volunteering for Project Harar (PH) as a junior doctor. Returning to Addis for the complex surgical mission, to work with such an amazing team, is always the highlight of my year!

What’s your background?

I am a Plastic Surgery trainee from Scotland with an interest in head and neck reconstruction and microsurgery. I recently took time out of clinical training to start a three year research project at the University of Oxford. I have been involved with the charity Project Harar for the last 5 years and was involved in a mission in 2017 to gather long term surgical outcomes for our patients.

How did you hear about Project Harar?

I was introduced to the charity by Matt Fell, a fellow Plastic Surgery trainee, who has been a key member of the PH team since his medical elective at University.

What inspired you to volunteer for Project Harar?

I have always been interested in head and neck reconstruction and once I heard about the charity, Ethiopia and the people involved I was hooked!

Tell us about your role as a volunteer doctor on the Complex Mission.

As a junior doctor for PH I have been involved in all phases of the complex mission. My role, along with the rest of the team, is to make sure patients are prepared and optimised for theatre – with scans, blood tests and consent all sorted prior to surgery. During the surgical week we help organise theatre lists, deal with any unexpected issues and assist in theatre when time allows. Following surgery we look after patients medical issues and rehabilitation and help them recover before discharge.

What is the best thing about volunteering for Project Harar?

The best thing about working with PH is the patients you treat and the team involved.

As a junior doctor for the charity you get a unique opportunity to form bonds with patients and their families and follow them though their reconstructive journey.

Every year I continue to be motivated and inspired by the hard work and dedication shown by all members of the PH and Ethiopian team.

What is the biggest challenge about working in Ethiopia and the Complex Mission?

Not being able to provide treatment for a select few adults and children with advance disease (e.g. cancer) or conditions the charity can't treat (e.g. neurosurgical cases) can be very distressing, especially if you have developed a bond with the patient and their family. However, in such circumstances we work hard to link these patients into local Ethiopian healthcare for further treatment, if this is possible.

What have you learned from your experiences volunteering?

My time volunteering for PH has taught me a lot about the unique, advanced head and neck pathology that we rarely see in the UK and the creative reconstructive strategies to treat them. The missions have made me a better communicator, teacher and leader – all skills I employ during my day job in the UK.