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Going the Distance with the ASH Visitor Training Program

December 11, 2023
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The ASH Visitor Training Program (VTP) is designed to help build hematology capacity in low- and middle-income countries by providing funding for hematology professionals in these regions to train for up to 12 weeks with an ASH member mentor located anywhere in the world. Upon completion of the customized training program, participants return to their home institutions to implement their newly acquired knowledge and skills. 

Year after year, graduates of the VTP and their home institutions reap the benefits of this intensive training experience. Lamiaa A. Fathalla, MD, who focused on bone marrow transplantation for patients with thalassemia as a member of the 2020 VTP cohort, was emphatic on the program’s influence on her practice: “My experience has had a great impact on the patient’s diagnosis. I have already diagnosed two rare cases that I haven't seen before, except in my training.” When asked to consider the most important aspect of the program, she added, “The most important thing is that the training was focused on the tools I already use daily, and we customized it to get the best training benefits. 

The ability of individual participants to customize their training to the unique needs of their home institutions and regions is a critical component of the VTP’s lasting effects on patient care, hematology research, and ongoing training efforts. Angela Ugwu, FMCPath, who received an ASH VTP award in 2017, trained under Andreas Greinacher, MD, at the University of Greifswald in Germany on extended Rh and ABO typing using the massive transfusion procedure (MTP) method. Upon returning home, Dr. Ugwu was able to implement much of the training she gained in Greifswald. She established a hospital blood transfusion team that meets monthly to manage blood transfusion services at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital; she implemented a quality documentation system in which patient information is registered and traceable, allowing logs to be traced from the donor to the patient; she ensured units of blood are screened and documented properly; and she trained her staff so that blood grouping “is done as it should be, both forward and in reverse.” 

Throughout the process — from application to acceptance to arranging the logistics of a new (albeit temporary) life thousands of miles from home — ASH provides the support necessary to set VTP participants up for success. In fact, this aspect was the true “standout moment” of the experience for Dr. Fathalla, who began her VTP journey at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic: “All through this period, I was afraid of losing my grant, but whenever I emailed Erin [Erin Sheek, international programs manager at ASH], I was always reassured. Also, they made everything easy, like money transfers, and whenever I asked anything, they always had an informative, supportive answer.” 

For more information about the programs, visit hematology.org/awards/career-enhancement-and-training/visitor-training-program. 

 

“I have witnessed the remarkable educational value of the VTP program and the great potential for hematology capacity building in developing countries. My mentee was able to acquire a very valuable and practical skill, and he has already implemented a program to train others at his home institution. I personally found the program very rewarding. I highly recommend it for those who are considering serving as a host.” — Lekidelu Taddesse-Heath, MD, VTP Mentor, Howard University, Washington DC

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