Coming full circle

September 17, 2013

Edmonton physician Dr. Brian J. Wirzba dedicates time to improving the medical training for a country he once called home.

At a rural hospital in Cameroon, he is helping to improve the knowledge and skills of local physicians so they can stay where they are needed most long as we’re making progress and I feel like I’m contributing, I’m keen to keep going back.

CameroonIt’s a long way from Edmonton to Cameroon, Africa. But for Dr. Brian J. Wirzba, a specialist in general internal medicine and clinical professor at the University of Alberta, Cameroon never felt that far away. “My parents were missionaries and I was a student there as a kid,” he recalls. “So I’ve always felt a strong connection to the country and its people.”

Five years ago, when he heard about efforts to strengthen Cameroon’s medical training capabilities, he didn’t hesitate to volunteer.

Cameroon“I’m working with a training program in a rural hospital. They struggle to get physicians out into rural communities and this program aims to train more Cameroonians and get them to stay in those communities where they’re needed most.”

Over the past five years, Dr. Wirzba has seen the knowledge base of the trainees improve, and he’s helped them adopt a more practical approach to patient interactions. “We’re helping them develop essential skills like physical exams, so they don’t rely so heavily on technology they may not know how to use.”

CameroonIronically, Dr. Wirzba’s wife also spent time as a child in Cameroon. In fact, her father was an administrator at the same hospital where the internal medicine training program is now based. “We made that first trip as a family and it was a homecoming of sorts.”

He has since returned for two to three weeks each year on his own, most recently working on student evaluations. “It’s a slow process. We have a good sense of where we want to wind up, but it’s going to take a while to get there.”

CameroonDr. Wirzba’s volunteer efforts are not affiliated with any group or organization – meaning he pays his own costs to get there and back.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m not taking the whole family each year,” he laughs. “But as long as we’re making progress and I feel like I’m contributing, I’m keen to keep going back.”


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