Long-term investment in training produces results

John Maihua in 2003 with Dr Nick Houseman in Mt Hagen, PNG.

Across the Asia Pacific, local surgeons are growing in expertise with long-term Interplast support.

In Papua New Guinea, we have been working with Dr John Maihua for almost 15 years, supporting his ongoing training and professional development. When our teams first met Dr Maihua, he was a trainee in PNG’s plastics program. Now he is the only fully qualified plastic surgeon in PNG, serving a population of 7.6 million people.

Dr Maihua is based in Madang in the country’s north-east where he runs a plastics and hand surgery clinic, but he is in high demand across the country, visiting other centres such as Mt Hagen and Lae to support general surgeons with their cases.

When Dr Maihua was a trainee, he realised he needed support to develop his skills. “I started to collect plastics patients – but I didn’t have anyone here to teach me,” he said.

Thankfully, Dr Maihua was able to connect with a volunteer Interplast team led by Dr John Barnett. “John was a very strict teacher,” Dr Maihua recalls. “He would show me how to repair a cleft, then I would do one, and if it wasn’t perfect, he’d make me do it again from scratch. This was how I learned to do a really good quality job.

 

John Maihua, left, assists Interplast volunteers in an operation in 2010.

“The ability to repair cleft lips and palates is the greatest and most satisfying skill I have learnt. Patients have been referred to me from all over the country, from Tari in the Southern Highlands, to Western Highlands and Mt Hagen, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, Milne Bay and so on.”

Over the years Dr Maihua has joined Interplast volunteer teams on programs around PNG. “It meant that I was able to work with really experienced teams to learn all the different plastics skills, but also to witness how a really professional team works together – not just the surgeons, but also the nursing and anaesthetic staff,” he said.

As part of his training, Dr Maihua spent a year in Adelaide, under the tutorage of hand surgeon Dr Phillip Griffin. “I learned so much,” he said. “Dr Griffin taught me how to do hand surgery – this was the start of a life-long passion for me.” Dr Griffin continued to support Dr Maihua’s training, and together with Interplast provided Dr Maihua with ongoing opportunities to return to Australia for intensive workshops and conferences.

 

John Maihua examines a patient as part of an Interplast program in 2010.

Since 2012, Interplast has been sending a regular team to Madang to support Dr Maihua with his complex plastics cases, with a particular focus on teaching and mentoring in hand surgery. A regular team member, Dr Peter Maloney from Melbourne, has seen great growth in Dr Maihua’s skills, and indeed those of his team, in the six years that he has been visiting Madang.

“Over the years his skills have improved immeasurably, and he has driven the set-up of what is now a very good plastic surgery unit at the Modilon Hospital,” said Dr Moloney.

Dr Maihua has big hopes for plastic surgery in PNG. “One day I would like to see a plastic surgeon in all the main regions of PNG,” he said. “Each of them could specialise in a particular area of plastics, as well as having the general skills, and we could support each other with our case-loads.”

Interplast is working hard to help Dr Maihua and all of our partners in PNG to achieve this goal. It’s a wonderful example of the ways that we invest in training and mentoring for surgeons and other medical professionals in all our program countries.

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