Sept. 6, 2012 – A University of Utah surgeon who for 20 years has traveled the world improving urologic care and access to surgery for people in undeveloped nations has been awarded the 2012 American College of Surgeons/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Award.
Catherine R. deVries, M.D., professor of pediatric urology at the U of U School of Medicine, will receive the award in October when the American College of Surgeons (ACS) holds its Clinical Congress in Chicago. In the past two decades deVries has made dozens of trips to Africa, Latin America, and Asia where hundreds of millions of people have extremely limited access or no access at all to surgery. While she has performed countless operations for people with urologic needs, her primary goal has been to establish a sustainable approach by teaching surgical procedures to local physicians and nurses so they can meet the needs of the populations they serve.
Improving access to urologic and other surgical care for undeveloped and underserved nations has become deVries’ passion.
“An estimated 90 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to surgery,” she says. “This simply is not acceptable. We can and must do better.”
deVries became interested in providing urologic care to undeveloped nations when she visited Honduras shortly after completing her surgical residency at Stanford University. Seeing children who needed urologic care but had no access to it, she developed a surgical care and education model built around the conditions and limited resources available in undeveloped countries. In 1994, she founded International Volunteers in Urology, which focuses on teaching urology in resource-poor areas. The not-for-profit organization, now called IVUmed, has set up educational partnerships to teach all aspects of urology to doctors and nurses in 30 nations.
Her travels have shown deVries that people in undeveloped nations need access to all types of surgery. Recognizing this, she recently established the Center for Global Surgery at the University of Utah. The center brings together people with backgrounds in surgery and anesthesiology, business and finance, and engineering to combine their experience and talents to find innovative ways for resource-poor areas to develop the infrastructure to provide surgery. This March, the center held its first annual conference, which was attended by people from across the United States and throughout the world.
deVries also serves on two World Health Organization projects, including the Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgery committee, and other initiatives as well.
“Our global surgical community is a rich resource for innovation,” she says. “Working together we can transform access to surgical care in our own home towns and around the world.”