The Surgery Interest Group of Africa (SIGAf) are making history, uniting surgeons and surgically-inclined students from across Africa, offering education, mentorship and research opportunities. Since launching in April 2022, SIGAf have quickly grown into one of the largest medical organisations in the continent, building and nurturing the African surgical workforce.
We had the privilege of chatting to Damilola, qualified Surgeon and President of SIGAf, about their growth, goals and plans to take SIGAf global.
We’d love to know more about you, and why you started SIGAf?
I graduated in 2019 from Afe Babalola University in Nigeria. After graduating, I did an internship and then worked for a year. However I noticed that I didn't have any research experience in medicine. This was possibly due to a lack of peer group support for students in Africa, compared to students abroad who have access to groups such as STARSurg, InciSioN and NANSIG. We decided to see whether we could replicate something like this in Africa. The aim was to help African medical students and early care doctors get access to research, skills in research and to create a network of surgeons, so we could motivate each other. So, we launched SIGAf, and since starting in April 2022, we’ve grown to over 700 members and had lots of publications and presentations. Plus, we've been able to motivate medical students across Africa to get into research and get connected with mentors.
Can you share more on how is SIGAf structured and organised?
It’s a large organisation and it’s decentralised. We have a community for every surgical specialty and each of these communities have leaders. The leaders, and assistants, are responsible for guiding the goals of the community. The objectives are pretty straight forward; produce as much educational content as you can, try to create research groups within your communities and make sure you have consultants to provide mentorship opportunities.
Why did you start using MedAll?
The medical school needed a virtual platform to use for all our events. We tried Zoom and Google Meet to start with, but they weren't comprehensive enough. I came across MedAll on social media and attended an event on MedAll and thought, maybe this could work for our organisation.
It was a bit challenging at first as it’s a new platform and it wasn’t like Google Meet or Zoom. It was really hard to navigate for me and the community leads, but I kept encouraging everyone of the benefits as with MedAll, everything is comprehensive; you have a portfolio, an easy way to generate certificates and an easy way to generate feedback. It's an upgrade from other video conferencing platforms, and specifically designed for the entire medical world.
Programme after programme, we began to see that MedAll was really, really useful for our organisation, plus we were able to record and have our content as catch-up, which wasn’t available, or free, on other platforms. As we began to use MedAll, we began to see that it was the perfect platform for us.
How can MedAll continue to help SIGAf grow?
We're still a young organisation, we're just shy of about nine months now, so we could definitely use support in terms of reaching out and getting publicity on MedAll. I don't think there's any organisation like us on the continent. MedAll has assisted us with this already, as we’ve won the Exceptional Educators award twice. We've had people from other countries attending our general events; from the UK, the US, Uruguay and Pakistan. Our name is definitely out there, but we could use more publicity in the next couple of weeks and months as we begin to launch new projects. For example, we haven't really focused on African specific diseases, which is something we will eventually start to do. When we start to produce homegrown research and start to discuss homegrown data, I expect more people from other countries are going to join.
We’d love to know, what’s been your proudest moment as president of SIGAf?
If I had to pick one, it would be the International Conference 2022 because we had 300 people in attendance, many of them from different countries, and a wide variety of speakers from different parts of the world. We talked about things that were related to Africans, such as how to get into training and research in Nigeria, plus we also had oral and poster presentations, which medical students did. Without MedAll it would have been very difficult for us to host our conference. MedAll gave it a "real" feeling, like it was an actual conference, with breakout rooms, sessions, moderators and speakers, certificates for oral and poster presentations and certificates for speakers. I think that’s a perk of MedAll, it’s global.
Our organisation aims can be broken down into three: research, education, mentorship. Do we have medical students now doing research? Yes, we do. Do we have medical students that have now published research? Yes. Do we have medical students that have presented their research, under SIGAf at international conferences? Yes, we do, at both in person and virtual conferences. These are all students and scenarios that would've never happened without SIGAf.
What does the future hold for SIGAf?
Since we started, I haven't had time to sit back and reflect on everything we've done so far, and what we hope to achieve. The potential for SIGAf is really enormous and the rate of growth of the organisation is in itself is success story. When we started SIGAf in April, we didn't think we were going to get this big, this fast, across the continent. Now that we’ve gotten where we are, it’s a bit nostalgic to look back. I didn't think we're ever going to get here, and now that we are, the potential is enormous. I'm projecting we’ll have more than 2000 members by the end of next year as our trainees begin to graduate, become consultants, and then feed back into the organisation. We’re potentially the first organisation doing this, on this scale. I think we'll become a very, very, very big African organisation that everyone wants to partner with in the next couple of years. We're hoping to form partnerships, including with MedAll, and see how we can build something together for both our community in Africa and around the world. I don't think this growth would've been possible without MedAll.