Michigan Medicine helps St. Paul’s in Ethiopia graduate its first-ever GI Fellows

Years in the making, a Michigan Medicine-led effort to bolster much-needed Gastroenterology training in Ethiopia is beginning to pay off.

Professor of Gasteroenterology Hari Conjeevaram (left) with SPHMMC  Haile Desalegn Mekonen, one of two physicians to complete St. Paul's new GI Fellowship program.

St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, U-M’s partner medical school in Addis Ababa, graduated its first batch of GI Fellows in October 2017. Established two years ago in collaboration with faculty at Michigan Medicine, the two-year training program is only the second GI Fellowship in Ethiopia, where there are about a dozen gastroenterologists in a country of more than 100 million. Following the graduation last October, there are now two more, plus four additional fellows currently in training.

The figures may be small, but they represent a large step forward, said UMMS Professor of Gastroenterology Hari Conjeevaram, MD, who worked to help establish the program and remains heavily involved, including helping to administer the final examinations for the recent graduates.

“To witness their knowledge and their confidence grow over the course of these two years has been gratifying,” Dr. Conjeevaram said. “We’re training candidates who will be able to turn around and become the educators for the next group of fellows. That has always been the goal – to help people help themselves and serve their own communities.”

The program at St. Paul’s has accepted two new fellows each year since its 2015 launch. Ethiopia trainees follow a similar curriculum to Michigan Medicine fellows, and even participate via web conferencing in the UMMS GI Division’s weekly Grand Rounds.

Michigan Medicine GI Fellow Arpan Patel (left) with recently graduated SPHMMC Fellow Fikadu Girma Gudissa.

Arpan Patel, MD, a third-year GI fellow at Michigan Medicine, spent a month working at St. Paul’s last fall. Dr. Patel rounded with the Ethiopian fellows, saw patients, taught endoscopy techniques (given his three-year fellowship training, he has more experience with the procedural aspects than his St. Paul’s counterparts), and helped them with research projects, a required component of the program.

“As one of the chief GI fellows this past year, I’ve been exposed to a lot of administrative aspects of running a fellowship program and the immense amount of work involved. I was impressed at how structured their program is,” said Dr. Patel.  “Thanks to the collaboration (with U-M), they’ve been able to create a comprehensive curriculum that covers many of the same areas we cover here. They are incredibly motivated and eager to learn, and make the most of comparatively limited resources.”

Patel was the first Michigan Medicine GI fellow to do a rotation at St. Paul’s, although leaders hope to establish regular exchanges in both directions. St. Paul’s fellows are expected to visit Michigan Medicine for the first time this year, and more U-M GI fellow rotations at St. Paul’s are likely.

“We now have other fellows who are very interested in going, and we’re hopeful that we can send someone every year,” said Dr. Conjeevaram. “For our fellows, it’s an opportunity to share their training and expertise with their colleagues at St. Paul’s, but also a lot to learn from as well. It fits very well into the global educational curriculum.”