American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

ACS Honors Four Members with Surgical Humanitarian and Volunteerism Awards

Surgeons are recognized for their dedicated efforts to ensure underserved populations have access to surgical care.


CHICAGO (October 7, 12:05 am CT): Last night, four surgeons received the 2015 American College of Surgeons (ACS)/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Award and Surgical Volunteerism Awards in recognition of their selfless efforts as volunteer surgeons who provide care to medically underserved patients abroad.

The extraordinary contributions of these four award recipients were recognized at the 2015 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, during the annual Board of Governors reception and dinner. The awards are determined by the ACS Board of Governors Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup, and are administered through the ACS Operation Giving Back program.

The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Award recognizes Fellows who have dedicated much of their careers to ensuring that underserved populations have access to surgical care and have done so without expecting commensurate compensation. Dan Poenaru, MD, FACS, a pediatric surgeon from Montreal, QC, was named the award recipient for starting East Africa’s first pediatric surgical fellowship and for educating and training pediatric surgeons in Africa.

Dr. Poenaru made a life-changing decision to end his full-time academic pediatric surgical practice to move from Canada to Kenya with BethanyKids, a faith-based organization devoted to the holistic care of children with surgical conditions and disabilities. With only seven beds available for children with pediatric surgical conditions upon his arrival, Dr. Poenaru co-founded BethanyKids at Kijabe Hospital (BKKH), a 67-bed pediatric surgery unit with 15 outpatient clinic sites across Kenya, several surgical trainees, specialty nurses, and rehabilitation therapists. He ran multiple pediatric surgical missions in Somaliland and bimonthly clinics in Dadaab, Kenya.

Realizing his general and pediatric surgical training was insufficient to meet the demands of his new environment, Dr. Poenaru sought additional training and recruited volunteer surgeons from North America. Not wanting to turn patients away, he scrubbed in with these recruits to learn techniques in pediatric urology, neurosurgery, and plastic surgery. Soon becoming aware of the limitations of surgical practice and training in resource-limited settings, Dr. Poenaru established a pediatric surgery fellowship program in conjunction with the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS). In partnership with the College of Surgeons of East, Central, and Southern Africa (COSECSA), he was able to attain accreditation for this fellowship program, making it the first certification in pediatric surgery available in the region. The COSECSA graduates, coming from several African countries, established satellite BethanyKids sites in Madagascar, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

Dr. Poenaru remained a strong advocate for increased resources for children’s surgeries in Africa through his research into the global burden of pediatric surgery, at conferences, and through educational and promotional materials. His fundraising efforts contributed to the construction of the new operative block at Kijabe Hospital, an 80-bed children’s center expected to open in 2016, and an upcoming 15-bed inpatient unit at the Mbarara University Teaching Hospital (MUTH) in Uganda.

As clinical director of BethanyKids, Dr. Poenaru oversees the activities of all six African sites. He is closely involved with the local surgeons and staff, regularly visiting the sites to assist in their operation. For the last three years he has also been involved in a new undergraduate medical program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he acts as part-time academic dean.

The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Volunteerism Award recognizes ACS Fellows and members who are committed to giving back to society through significant contributions to surgical care as volunteers. This year, volunteerism awards were granted to three surgeons.

Susan Miller Briggs, MD, MPH, FACS, a trauma and general surgeon, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston, MA, received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for working with not-for-profit organizations and the U.S. National Disaster Medical System to provide surgical care during humanitarian emergencies throughout the world.

Dr. Briggs founded the International Trauma and Disaster Institute at MGH as an educational resource in trauma and disaster medicine to aid the many countries that have little or no organized systems for disaster preparedness and response. She developed and participated in numerous international train-the-trainer courses for multidisciplinary medical providers, which are provided at no cost. The second edition of the Advanced Disaster Medical Response Manual for Providers was recently developed and edited by Dr. Briggs with the MGH department of surgery and the Harvard Program in Global Surgery; at present, it is being translated into multiple languages. The first edition was translated into eight languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, and Spanish.

In collaboration with the American Refugee Committee and as a founding member of the Durant Fellowship for Refugee Medicine, Dr. Briggs served as a mentor to many of the recipients, both at MGH and in refugee camps throughout the world. Her involvement with Project Hope and the U.S. government included organizing and leading volunteer disaster medical teams to respond to many international emergencies, including earthquake disasters in El Salvador, Armenia, Iran, China, and Haiti, as well as a train disaster in Ufa, Russia. Dr. Briggs also worked with not-for-profit organizations to develop programs addressing gender-based violence, income generation, and austere medical care in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr. Briggs worked as a consultant in trauma and disaster medicine following humanitarian disasters, helping to develop sustainable programs in trauma care and rehabilitation medicine in conjunction with not-for-profit and international medical organizations. These programs provide in-country training of personnel, provision of medical equipment, and collaborative exchange programs. Dr. Briggs is an associate professor of surgery and affiliate faculty in global surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Rifat Latifi, MD, FACS, a trauma and general surgeon from Tucson, AZ, received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for helping to establish telemedicine and e-health programs in underdeveloped countries, especially those recovering from conflict and in need of major rebuilding of their health care systems.

Dr. Latifi’s telemedicine program began in Kosovo, where the medical infrastructure was destroyed during the war of 1999. He and his collaborators built a state-of-the-art telemedicine program that included technical infrastructure, virtual education programs, videoconferencing capabilities, and an electronic library that uses the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI). The Initiate-Build-Operate-Transfer (IBOT) model designed by Dr. Latifi and his collaborators ensures the program’s sustainability and has been successfully replicated in Albania and Cabo Verde, Africa, and is currently present in 44 hospitals.

Being the founder and president of the not-for-profit International Virtual e-Hospital (IVeH), Dr. Latifi was able to introduce telemedicine, telehealth, virtual educational programs, and seminars though the IVeH network to fulfill the need for continuing medical education (CME). The telemedicine centers can be used for disaster preparedness to educate medical staff and improve educational capacities as an e-learning platform. Dr. Latifi and his team trained both physicians and administrators to operate these systems.

Dr. Latifi is professor of surgery, University of Arizona, Tucson, and is an active member of the American Telemedicine Association, vice-president of the International Society for Telemedicine and e-Health, and Chair of the Health Information Technology Committee of the ACS. In addition, he is an advisor to the Multinational Telemedicine for Disaster Management for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and he previously served on the advisory board of the European Space Agency.

Shilpa Shree Murthy, MD, MPH, a PGY-4 general surgery resident at Indiana University, Bloomington, received the Surgical Resident Volunteerism Award for developing the Clinical Breast Exam Simulation Training Course to provide care and education in Rwanda, Africa.

While attending the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Dr. Murthy founded the Global Medical Relief Program in 2002, one of the first undergraduate global health programs at the university. This program raised funds that were used to send medical supplies to underdeveloped countries around the world. In three years, the organization grew to 100 students from six and is currently one of the largest and most active global health undergraduate groups on campus. In collaboration with Health in Action, a medical student group from the University of Michigan, Dr. Murthy led a group of undergraduate engineer, public health, and medical students to apply health education programs and discover innovative ways to develop a clean water system for several villages outside San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic. Dr. Murthy also co-founded a chapter of Unite for Sight, a not-for-profit organization that provides free vision screenings.

Before graduating from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, in 2010, Dr. Murthy traveled to Malawi, Africa, with the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation in 2007. There she trained local women to deliver a health survey to more than 450 households. The survey was designed to determine how people accessed water and how this contributed to sanitation habits and nutritional status. She also assisted in and advocated for the creation of the first Global Health Center at Penn State University, Hershey.

In Kigali, Rwanda, Dr. Murthy designed and implemented a clinical breast exam training course for surgical, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) residents and medical students at the University of Rwanda. She taught more than 230 students how to evaluate and examine patients presenting with a breast complaint. She used a low-fidelity breast simulation model created by a local women’s cooperative, Ineza, to provide care to impoverished women who survived the Rwanda genocide. Dr. Murthy also developed the curriculum and coordinated an ultrasound-guided breast core needle biopsy course for surgery and OB/GYN residents. In collaboration with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, Partners in Health, and the University of Rwanda, Dr. Murthy was a key leader in planning and executing Rwanda’s inaugural national breast cancer symposium. This program led to the creation of multidisciplinary tumor boards at university hospitals and further supported breast training programs throughout the country, and procurement of breast core needle biopsies.

Dr. Murthy plans to pursue an academic career where she can continue her work in medical education and improve access to quality surgical cancer care in the most disenfranchised patient populations.

Editor’s Note:  Photos of the award winners are available upon request from the ACS Office of Public Information.   Email:

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About the American College of Surgeons
The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for all surgical patients. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 80,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, visit


Sally Garneski 
Devin Rose