A surgeon at Colchester Hospital is at the forefront of teaching keyhole surgery techniques to clinicians around the world.
Clinical lead for surgery and consultant colorectal surgeon Sharmila Gupta is helping to roll out nationally accredited training programmes in laparoscopic (keyhole) colorectal surgery all over the globe in a bid to share best practice and improve patient care.
Alongside her day job at the hospital she works as part of a group called Lapco International. It is a UK based laparoscopic surgical training team which aims to make keyhole surgery safe with good outcomes for patients and helps other countries achieve the same goals.
Since 2013 Sharmila has delivered training to surgical teams in North America, the Middle East, South Africa and Europe – most recently in Norway and Denmark, with Poland and Bulgaria to follow soon.
Sharmila said the benefits of keyhole surgery are “huge” due to faster recovery times and the technique causing less pain for patients.
She said: “When you finish a project you feel really proud of the fact you’re making a difference to how patients in those countries will be treated in the future.
“It’s also a great opportunity to see how different healthcare systems work and how different units are structured, it gives you ideas of how to improve your own department.
“Although we’re going out there to teach, I always learn something from every trip I go on and every hospital I see.”
Sharmila, who first arrived at Colchester Hospital in 2009, said the department’s international outlook is a real plus point, with all surgeons involved in teaching and training both here and abroad. It also helps to boost recruitment.
“It’s getting the name of the hospital and ESNEFT out there. The surgical department do some fantastic work here and the surgical consultants all work with the Iceni Centre to attract delegates from around the world.”
The Iceni Centre at Colchester Hospital is one of only three in the country to provide the Lapco ‘Train the Trainer’ course. Groups from countries who wish to benefit from the programme attend the course and Sharmila and her colleagues then work as surgeons in that country on faculty development, helping teams develop the skills they need.
Gradually she and her team step back and just offer support as and when it’s needed, then the group of trainees can deliver the training to colleagues themselves and the process can begin again in another country.
Sharmila said: “It’s all done in a managed way so people are trained properly with mentors.”
Medicine was my childhood dream
Sharmila always knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine, even when she was a child. Her main areas of expertise are laparoscopic colorectal surgery and inflammatory bowel disease. Outside of her clinical work she is passionate about education and training.
She went to medical school in London in 1990 and completed her surgical training in the city and Cambridgeshire. She also completed fellowships in London and Colchester and carried out two years of research at the Royal Free Hospital. She was appointed as a consultant at Colchester Hospital in 2010.
While it may be a unique specialty among female clinicians, Sharmila said more women are getting into surgery now compared to when she started out which she says is “great”.
She said: “It’s a difficult specialty for anybody, but I had always known I wanted to do a specialty based around gastrointestinal diseases. When I was at medical school, the first time I was in the operating theatre it was obvious to me it was what I had to do.
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“It’s a great career option, whether you are male or female, it’s such an interesting career and field.”