October 1, 2016
Dr. Melissa Amundson, ’07, of Portland, OR, has become the first American oral and maxillofacial surgeon (OMFS) to be accepted as a volunteer to the world famous organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors Without Borders).
Dr. Amundson’s first four-week deployment was to the MSF-supported Noma Children’s Hospital in Sokoto, Nigeria in October 2016. She joined an American MSF plastic surgeon to form a uniquely capable multidisciplinary team to treat noma, a rapidly progressive, polymicrobial, often gangrenous infection of the mouth.
Dr. Amundson’s road to Nigeria began about 18 months prior to her actual departure. Having participated in other humanitarian aid groups, she set her sights on MSF in 2013.
“MSF is highly selective and their volunteer acceptance rate is, at most, 20%,” Dr. Amundson said. “I didn’t think I had a chance.”
Following her initial application, a call from MSF headquarters in New York resulted in disappointment. At that time, MSF did not feel that an OMFS would have the particular skills that could be an asset to the organization. They said they would keep her information “on file.”
In the meantime, Dr. Amundson began a one-year fellowship in Advanced Craniomaxillofacial and Trauma Surgery at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland. In October 2015, while she attended the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) meeting in Washington DC, MSF called her back. MSF had begun supporting a hospital in Nigeria that would be dedicated to the treatment of noma and asked if she would be interested. The support of such a surgical program was the first in its kind for MSF, as this organization usually limits its scope to public health causes in refugee camps, areas of active war, and the treatment of internally displaced peoples.
Dr. Amundson had to delay her participation until completion of her fellowship, but otherwise the application process was underway. She underwent an extensive interview process at the MSF headquarters in New York, including a French language interview. She was then accepted.
After her fellowship, Amundson joined the practice of her fellowship’s organizing body, the Head and Neck Surgical Associates, whose surgeons felt her clinical schedule in Portland could be adapted to her MSF commitments. One year after the call, she boarded a plane for Nigeria as the first American OMFS volunteer in Médecins Sans Frontières.
This will become an annual mission for Dr. Amundson. She has also been added to the MSF Trauma Surgery Pool for the trauma hospital in Amman, Jordan, which is a reconstructive surgery center in that war-torn region. The hospital serves wounded patients from across the region that otherwise have no access to specialized surgical care locally or in their home countries. Dr. Amundson would like to encourage other OMFS colleagues to consider volunteering with MSF.
Written by Dr. Eric Dierks, DMD, MD, FACS
Photo caption: Dr. Melissa Amundson (bottom right) and the entire surgical/OR team for Noma Children's Hospital, Sokoto, Nigeria.