Thirty-three-year-old Dr. Patricia calls ophthalmology her “destiny,” but is acutely aware that, even with the proper education, opportunities to turn her surgical dreams into a reality were rare. When she heard about the ophthalmic mentoring available on the Africa Mercy in Cameroon, she was thrilled to participate.
On her first day as a mentee in the Africa Mercy ophthalmic Operating Room, Dr. Patricia Eyoup Sen was shaking in her medical scrubs.
“I was so nervous… this was such a new experience,” she said. While she’d received years of classroom education in both Mali and Cameroon, the Mercy Ships O.R. was her first time participating in an actual surgery.
Over the course of the three months, Dr. Patricia participated in over 300 surgeries onboard — 150 of which were independent surgeries featuring her as the lead surgeon.
Beyond the value of practicing surgical procedure, Dr. Patricia says many of her biggest takeaways came from conversations with Dr. Glenn Strauss (USA), who was then serving as a volunteer ophthalmic surgeon. “I learned to be focused on every single patient. When you do so many surgeries right after each other, it can be easy for it to become automatic,” Dr. Patricia said. “Dr. Glenn told me that even though he’s done thousands of these surgeries, he treats each case like they’re different, and he never relaxes. Everything changed after that conversation.”
As her mentoring came to an end, Dr. Patricia was ready to apply everything she’d learned by creating a space for renewed eye care and restored vision in Garoua, a remote river city in northern Cameroon.
She decided to partner with the Regional Hospital of Garoua by reviving their eye clinic, which had been inoperative for almost 20 years due to a lack of ophthalmic specialists. Mercy Ships MCB staff came alongside her to help train nurses from the area — three of whom would return to Dr. Patricia’s clinic. The course involved classroom training, mentoring in proper surgical preparation, taking care of surgical equipment, and the opportunity to participate in two daily surgeries.
Now successfully up and running for the first time in two decades, the clinic serves patients with ophthalmic needs such as prescribing and providing glasses and caring for inflammation, glaucoma, and cataracts.
While she says mentoring can be difficult and time-consuming, Dr. Patricia has learned first-hand from staff onboard the Africa Mercy that it’s worth the effort. “Mentoring takes time — it can sometimes last for months — but in the long run, it’s always a win,”
One of the first surgeries she was able to perform at her clinic in Garoua was for a young mother who’d long been blinded by cataracts. “A while after her surgery this mama returned to the clinic and gave me a gift of a spiritual book,” Dr. Patricia shared. “She wanted to bless me to be strong and continue performing surgeries so that others’ lives could be changed the way hers had been… The lasting impact of Mercy Ships goes far beyond me. All the doctors and nurses that have been trained can go on to help the whole country.”
Less than a year after Dr. Patricia was mentored onboard, she decided to return to the Africa Mercy — this time, as a volunteer surgeon. During her two weeks onboard during the field service in Guinea, she performed cataract surgeries for 85 patients — which, at the heart of it, is the reason she got into this field in the first place.
“I came back to serve with Mercy Ships in Guinea because I wanted to improve my practice, and I wanted to serve people who need help for blindness,” she said. “I feel blessed to be able to give sight to people — it’s a great opportunity to help people, and I’m very thankful.”