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Dr. Frankie Powell (center, standing) teaches during a SAFE course in Somaliland.

Get to Know Anesthesiologist and Global Anesthesia Advocate Frankie Powell, MD

Future Leaders

Anesthesiologist Frankie Powell, MD, recently participated in a trip to provide training to anesthesia providers in Somaliland.

By nature, those in the medical field are passionate and dedicated to providing exceptional care to as many patients as they possibly can. Anesthesiologist Frankie Powell, MD not only exemplifies this notion for his patients at Mass Eye and Ear, but his passion for his work has taken him more than 7,000 miles across the globe.

“I always knew I wanted to be a doctor,” Dr. Powell told Focus, “It’s the only thing I ever thought about being for as long as I can remember.”

SAFE course Somaliland Powell
Dr. Powell (R) with Edna Adan Ismail (L), activist and fierce health care advocate; and founder and director of the Edna Adan Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland, where the SAFE course was held

After graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont, Dr. Powell moved to Boston to pursue a Master of Public Health from Boston University, all while working part time as a laboratory technician at Mass General Hospital.

Following the completion of his master’s, Dr. Powell enrolled at Albany Medical College for medical school. Afterwards, he completed an internship in General Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a residency in Anesthesiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a fellowship in Pediatric Anesthesiology at Tufts Medical Center. His journey led him to Mass Eye and Ear in 2020, where he sees patients at both the Main Campus and Longwood locations in Boston.

Throughout his medical training and career, Dr. Powell has found time to volunteer and give back to his community, both locally and globally.

“Working in low- and middle-income countries has always interested me,” said Dr. Powell. “In Boston we are fortunate to have some of the best hospitals and medical training in the country, and I think it’s important to use our resources to improve anesthesia capacity and infrastructure in lower-resourced settings.”

Giving back globally

Dr. Powell’s interest for global anesthesia took root while he was completing his residency and led him to become a member of the Boston Global Anesthesia Initiative.

The Boston Global Anesthesia Initiative is a trainee-led, faculty-mentored group with an interest in global anesthesia, particularly in low-resource settings. It was at this group where he made a connection to Faye Evans, MD, who would later become his mentor and introduce Dr. Powell into global anesthesia work. Dr. Evans is heavily involved in multiple facets of global anesthesia and was instrumental in helping Dr. Powell participate in his first global anesthesia trip to Uganda in 2019.

SAFE faculty Powell group shot
SAFE faculty and trainees with Edna Adan Ismail (far left).

This past May, the two anesthesiologists joined colleagues from around the world to provide a long-awaited refresher course in Hargeisa, Somaliland, in northern Africa. The trip consisted of a weeklong training for local anesthesia providers to complete Safer Anaesthesia From Education (SAFE) courses, specifically in obstetrics and pediatrics. Dr. Powell and Dr. Evans were two of three faculty from the United States, with the remaining coming from the United Kingdom and Chile.

After previous work in Uganda and a hiatus on trips due to the pandemic, Dr. Powell was excited to return to a new area of Africa to work with communities there.

Refresher course in Somaliland

The SAFE courses are designed to be “off-the-shelf” refresher courses in anesthesia that can be adapted and taught in any setting. The first SAFE course was taught in Uganda in 2011 and since then, courses have reached 45 countries worldwide with over 5,500 providers and 1,050 future SAFE trainers completing training. This was the first time SAFE was taught Somaliland, a trip that was originally postponed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Powell and Dr. Jo Thirsk (UK) lead a small group session in pediatric anesthesia.

Each day during a SAFE course is structured similarly, with facilitators and participants congregating in a classroom setting from 8:30am – 5pm throughout the week for hands-on and interactive training.

“We work to present many different interactive scenarios,” explains Dr. Powell, “We arrived with several mannequins and a plethora of other anesthesia equipment, so that our trainees have the most realistic training possible. We left all of this in Somaliland so that future SAFE courses can easily be run.”

One of the best parts of the course, according to Dr. Powell, is seeing the results and progress that has been made by the end of the week. “In Somaliland, 30 anesthesia providers completed the course. A few of these providers were selected as ‘leaders’ and then went on to participate in a Training of Trainers (ToT) session so they can teach future SAFE courses in the country down the road,” he said.

Dr. Powell’s best advice? Dive right in

Dr. Powell can’t recommend global work enough to his peers and encourages anyone who has even briefly considered a trip to take the plunge.

SAFE faculty including Dr. Powell (far right) take an excursion to the outskirts of Hargeisa, Somaliland.

“The best advice I can give you is to dive right in,” he expressed.

Dr. Powell made note of the support he felt from the Mass Eye and Ear Anesthesiology Department, who fully championed his trip to Somaliland, and even offered him time off so that he didn’t have to use as many vacation days. One of the pillars of Mass Eye and Ear’s mission is to educate future leaders in care, and these provide an opportunity to carry that mission globally.

“Global work is challenging and will take you very far outside of your comfort zone,” said Dr. Powell, “but it can be a great experience if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.”

To learn more about Safer Anaesthesia From Education (SAFE), visit their website here.

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