Salisbury VA Health Care System Doctor awarded for international work

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2022

SALISBURY — An orthopedic surgeon in the Salisbury VA Health Care System was recently awarded the 17th annual Health Volunteers Overseas Golden Apple Award for his work with Tanzanian medical residents.

Dr. Bob Erdin works at the Charlotte Veterans Affair Health Care Center,  an extension of the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center. He shares knowledge and surgical techniques with medical residents and believes in a hands-on approach to learning. He watches and instructs but allows the residents to get real-life experience.

“Unlike other traveling programs where you operate, operate, operate and then leave, this is more of a consultant/teacher so that when you return home they can use some of the surgical skills you’ve taught them,” he said.

Erdin spent two weeks in Tanzania in 2019 prior to COVD-19 shutting down travel.

“For us, COVID was a pretty dramatic event, but Tanzanian shipments for ortho supplies just halted,” he said. “How do you take care of a broken bone when no one is delivering the plates and screws you need?”

Erdin has remained a fixture in the residents’ lives throughout the pandemic.

“They weren’t getting any international instruction when COVID hit,” he said. “We began hosting monthly conferences via Zoom for the Tanzanians to teach different topics and techniques.”

For the Tanzanians, it’s not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of resources.

“Based on book knowledge, they would probably give us a run for our money,” said Erdin. “The biggest difference was when I put a tool in their hands that they’d never used. Here in the states, we’re blessed with the latest instruments, whereas in Tanzania it’s using first generation instruments as opposed to fourth-generation equipment.”

Seeing this first-hand gave Erdin a deeper appreciation of American medical care. It also impacted him as a surgeon.

“If you ever doubt what an amazing medical system we have, all you need to do is visit a resource-limited environment and see the dramatic differences,” he said. “It’s taught me to be a better surgeon by showing me that I don’t need the perfect instrument to provide a good surgery. They provide some amazing care with fewer tools than we have.”

Erdin plans to return to Tanzania in February to continue his outreach.

“After two-and-a-half-years of Zoom conversations, we’ve become friends,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get some good things accomplished while we’re there.”