After 28 years, Dr. Othman Shemisa returned to his home country of Libya May of last year to deliver medical assistance to citizens in need. He then returned to Libya again in November to deliver much-needed continuing medical education for practicing physicians in the recovering country. “The 40 years that have passed under the Gaddafi regime were years of oppression and exclusion,” Dr. Shemisa says. “Any education or advancement was linked with who was loyal to and supportive of that regime.”
Now that the repressive regime has fallen, Libya authorities are requesting a way to update practicing physicians to bring them up to date on all the advances of surgery and medicine. “We wanted them to be up to par with physicians elsewhere,” Dr. Shemisa says, and so the initiative of providing continuing medical education seminars for practicing physicians to attend was born.
Showing Seminars, Planting Seeds
“After speaking with Dr. Abdallah Glessa, dean of the medical school and vice president of the University of Benghazi, we thought whole seminars may be one of the fastest ways to start the process,” Dr. Shemisa says. “It won’t be sufficient in and of itself, but it is a beginning. It is planting seeds.”
The program consisted of five seminars shown over five days, each of which included a different topic with lectures and discussions. The lectures were obtained on videodiscs from American Medical Seminars, a continuing medical education establishment (previously affiliated with Temple University), and are considered the best of the best seminars.
The program met some challenges, though, since many people do not even realize what continuing education means or why it is important. “While there was genuine interest, there was limited interest because the concept is so new,” Dr. Shemisa says. Others simply experienced time constraints, as being needed to cover clinical services due to staff shortages.
“However, the ones who attended (about 15 physicians at each seminar ranging from senior medical students to interns to residents to faculty and professors) showed a great deal of interest and enthusiasm for continuing,” he says. “In fact, some volunteered to carry on the following days of seminars on their own.” The seminar videos were left for the medical library at the university hospitals so they can be loaned to interested parties to view on their own time.
The Next Phase
The next step in the continuing medical education process is to appoint staff in Libya responsible for the continuation of the process. “It cannot be done from outside the country,” Dr. Shemisa says. “I have realized my role is going to be in facilitating things from here to whoever is appointed in Libya. It is inefficient for me to travel back and forth to hold the seminars.” The aim is that eventually there will be live seminars attended via satellite and finally live seminars held on site so interaction can be personal and more tailored to the needs over there. “There are a lot of challenges, a lot of opportunities and a lot of work to do,” Dr. Shemisa says. “It is fortunate we can be part of this transition and help the medical services there through this venue of improving and elevating the medical knowledge to the practicing physicians. You take a lot of things for granted being in the U.S. But when you see the reality of them, you appreciate the job needed to make that transition happen.”
Looking to the Future
“The myriad of needs is great, but someone has to triage them,” Dr. Shemisa says. “I think [physicians in Libya] are best capable of triaging what their immediate needs are. I can use my presence in the U.S. and the resources that are tremendous here to facilitate meeting those needs.”
While Dr. Shemisa hopes to see those needs met, he also has bigger dreams for the physicians in Libya: “I would like to see a Department of Continuing Medical Education at the University of Benghazi Medical School,” he says. “It would not only be great for the medical school, but the whole country. I’d like to see the medical school reach for the stars…why not?”
At this time, Dr. Shemisa does not have a future trip to Libya planned: “I want to let this process percolate there in their minds,” he says, “then go back to see how we can develop this further and ensure its continuity.”
If you would like to help the Libyan efforts, contact Dr. Shemisa at (440) 414-9700, and he will help connect your expertise to those in need.