AO Davos Courses experience

A life-changing course for Dr Tongai Chitsamatanga in Switzerland

I received an email from Dr Claude Martin, Managing Director of the AO Alliance Foundation (AOAF) a few weeks after I had met him at the Malawi Orthopedics Association annual conference in September 2016. He was in Malawi piloting a non-operative fracture management training funded by the AOAF and his email was to enquire whether or not I was interested in attending the AO Davos Courses 2016. I was elated at the opportunity and answered in the affirmative. The AOAF assisted me with all the logistics, and on December 2, 2016, I was on a South African Airways flight to Zurich, Switzerland for a life-changing course.

I chose to attend the Pediatrics Musculoskeletal Injuries Management course. Pediatric orthopedics is not only a passion of mine but in my country, Zimbabwe, it is a highly-neglected subspecialty because of the absence of an orthopedic surgeon solely dedicated to this area. I had been on a fellowship funded by COOL (COSECSA-Oxford Orthopedic Link) in Malawi at the Beit Cure Hospital doing mostly elective pediatric orthopedics from April-November 2016.

The course I was attending started promptly on December 5, 2016. The Course chairmen, Mr Reynolds and Prof Hui highlighted the objectives of the training and also pointed out the importance of establishing contacts for life with other participants. I was put in a group with pediatric orthopedic surgeons from Holland, Dubai, Switzerland and Turkey. It is a strange feeling when you discover a place you are meant to be, with the right people! I kept marveling throughout the training at the amount of knowledge I was acquiring. What made the whole experience even more pleasant was figuring out that I could use some of the methods I was learning without having to invest much in equipment. I realized that most treatments were dependent on the skills of the surgeon (which can be acquired in different ways) but also on the available resources. This means that some conservative methods still have a role and a good outcome in the management of pediatric patients even though some surgeons choose to operate in these scenarios because they have the skills and resources.

The most effective learning method for me during the Davos Courses was that of the practical sessions. It gave me an opportunity to practice new methods myself in front of helpful faculty and participants. The group discussions were equally good and so were the lectures. All the people from my group were willing to help me as I progress with my career in pediatric orthopedics especially after they realized the handicap I was willing to overcome in order to make this noble subspecialty fully operational in my country.

The icing on the cake for my Davos experience was getting books and DVDs from AOAF to share with my colleagues back home. This experience has not only been career changing but life changing too. I have realized my passion extends beyond just acquiring skills in pediatric orthopedics but also to teaching others about proper management of orthopedic conditions.

I landed back in Zimbabwe a changed man.