Barrow Welcomes Inaugural Franke Global Neurosurgery Fellow

Kerry Vaughan, MD, remembers the moment that sparked her curiosity about global health. As a medical student, she was shadowing a primary care physician in France when a political refugee patient commented on how fortunate Dr. Vaughan was to be part of that health system.

This alone didn’t shock Dr. Vaughan; she knew she had access to sufficient resources, highly trained mentors, and advanced technologies.

“But for somebody to look me in the eye and point that out,” she said, “it really led me to start thinking: What else am I missing out there? What do other health care settings look like?”

Where Neurosurgery Meets Global Need

After graduating with her medical degree from the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York City, Dr. Vaughan began a neurosurgery residency at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. She felt drawn to the subspecialty not only on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.

“I’m fascinated by the rate at which neuroscience is always evolving and how we can break that into our clinical practice,” she said, “while also being incredibly humbled by patients putting their trust in us to take them safely through surgery.”

Kerry Vaughan, MD

Diagnoses requiring neurosurgery can be life-threatening, and neurosurgery itself can pose serious risks. Dr. Vaughan said that hearing a patient’s story, and ultimately operating on their brain or spine, requires an immense amount of trust. It also cultivates a rewarding bond.

During an enfolded clinical research fellowship with Harvard University’s Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, Dr. Vaughan traveled to a small children’s hospital in the East African country of Uganda. There, power blackouts in the operating room, medication shortages, and parents arriving with sick children after traveling for days on a bus were commonplace. But so was resourcefulness, fortitude, and compassion among hospital staff—from the surgeons to the food service workers.

“They all come together to be able to identify what little resources they have available to take care of the next patient coming in, who is looking to them for their lifeline,” Dr. Vaughan said. “It was just absolutely jaw-dropping as a human experience for me, and that perpetuated my passion for this field.”

Dr. Vaughan feels honored to be able to further pursue this passion as the inaugural Franke Global Neurosurgery Fellow at Barrow Neurological Institute.

Launching the Franke Fellowship

This fellowship, which is part of the Franke Global Neuroscience Education Center within the Barrow Global initiative, is a year-long training program funded by Bill and Carolyn Franke. The Center also offers clinical observerships at Barrow; research fellowships in spinal and global neurosurgery; undergraduate internships in neuroscience, philanthropy, and communications; and international mission trips.

F. David Barranco, MD
F. David Barranco, MD

The Franke Global Neurosurgery Fellowship begins with three months at Barrow in Phoenix, Arizona, where the fellow receives training in global health management, mentors residents and students in global neurosurgery research, and has the opportunity to enhance any desired clinical skills. The fellow then spends up to nine months at Barrow Global’s first international training site: Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in the town of Moshi in Northern Tanzania. There, the Barrow Global team is partnering with regional neurosurgeons to expand access to neurosurgical education and care. Barrow Global plans to grow its footprint over time with additional training sites.

“The Franke Neurosurgery Fellowship offers the first opportunity for a full-time trained neurosurgeon to teach and work with individuals in Tanzania and other countries in Africa,” said F. David Barranco, MD, the Chief Medical Officer at Barrow and co-director of the Barrow Global initiative. “This is a new concept in providing training and medical expertise in remote locations to upgrade the quality of patient care in regions that may be financially and medically limited.”

“Importantly,” he continued, “it provides an opportunity for new forms of research and academic study to be explored and reported in the United States and internationally with respect to neurosurgical care.”

Dilan Ellegala, MD

Barrow Global Co-Director Dilan Ellegala, MD, a demonstrated leader in global neurosurgery development, will mentor the Franke Fellows while they are in Tanzania. He believes this type of immersive, overseas training is essential for the next generation of global neurosurgery leaders to be able to make viable recommendations in program and policy.

“The Franke Global Neurosurgery Fellowship is designed to give deep, practical, and experiential knowledge of working and teaching neurosurgery in the developing world to ensure that our future global neurosurgery leaders have had practical in-country experience,” Dr. Ellegala said. “This guides their decision-making as policy and academic leaders in global neurosurgery.”

Dr. Vaughan brings humility and a quiet confidence to the position, he added.

“I could not imagine a better inaugural global neurosurgery fellow than Kerry Vaughan,” he said.

Enacting More Sustainable Solutions

Dr. Vaughan hopes her time in Tanzania will continue to benefit the community long after her fellowship ends. She said the partnership is not only about providing advanced education and training to neurosurgeons already practicing, it’s about establishing a sustainable neurosurgery education system modeled after the world-renowned training programs at Barrow.

Michael Lawton, MD
Michael T. Lawton, MD

“As Dr. Michael Lawton says: Teaching is the great multiplier,” Dr. Vaughan explained, quoting the President and CEO of Barrow. “At the end of this Franke Fellowship, I really hope that we have built a strong program for our neurosurgery team in Tanzania—not only advancing their clinical care and helping them to develop an operative workflow that’s more efficient, but also creating a neurosurgical residency.”

This fellowship is not Dr. Vaughan’s first exposure to the Tanzanian health system. She provided neurosurgical education at a hospital in the East African country as a visiting professor in 2021, shortly after completing her pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. She’s also trained as a neurosurgery fellow at the Wellington Hospital in New Zealand.

“Having the opportunity to travel to so many different countries and be part of their health care system, learning from local teams, has really led me to realize that we’re all human,” Dr. Vaughan said. “We all have that need for compassion and care and community that brings us together and makes for great health care teams.”

Dr. Vaughan described these types of learning opportunities as bidirectional, since attending physicians and trainees from higher-resource settings can also learn from the ways physicians care for their patients when resources are limited.

It is a distinct pleasure to have our first Franke Fellow here now at Barrow, and that she is someone as special as Kerry Vaughan. Not only does she combine an impressive pedigree of higher learning and neurosurgical training with extensive medical experience in low-income countries, she is a compassionate clinician with a warm personality that will represent us overseas.

MichaelT. Lawton, MD, President and CEO, Barrow Neurological Institute

“My many experiences in global neurosurgery have really taught me, through collaboration with local teams, how to do so much more with so much less,” Dr. Vaughan said.

Dr. Lawton hopes that Franke Fellows will earn the reputation as global neurosurgery leaders who make significant contributions to advancing neurosurgical care and eliminating health disparity worldwide. He described Dr. Vaughan as an embodiment of this hope.

“It is a distinct pleasure to have our first Franke Fellow here now at Barrow, and that she is someone as special as Kerry Vaughan,” Dr. Lawton said. “Not only does she combine an impressive pedigree of higher learning and neurosurgical training with extensive medical experience in low-income countries, she is a compassionate clinician with a warm personality that will represent us overseas.”