Volunteer on Tarawa: OB/GYN Dr. Maria Teaiwa-Rutherford, at far left, has now returned home after volunteering for two weeks at the small government hospital on Tarawa in Kiribati. With her are staff members at the hospital.

Volunteer OB/GYN Helps on Tarawa; Observations Aim to Help Outcomes

One of our most highly regarded ob/gyns has returned home to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York after spending two weeks on far-away Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati, helping the obstetrics department at the main government hospital there.

“It was a great experience and one that I hope to do again and again,” according to Dr. Maria Teaiwa-Rutherford, MD, assistant professor at the department of obstetrics and gynecology, Icahn School of Medicine Mount Sinai Hospital.

“I was there for two weeks and spent time with the obstetrics team consisting of two physicians, including one physician from Cuba who spoke no English or I-Kiribati, two registrars and four interns,” she said. Her observations, in her own words:

P.S. We at Pacific Islands Medical Aid were blessed to have found Dr. Maria. She has relatives who live on Tarawa in Kiribati. Hope she can return again and again.

By Maria Teaiwa-Rutherford, M.D.

Since they had midwives doing deliveries, they mostly needed my help with gynecology. We did rounds every morning on the in-patients, saw patients in the emergency room and gynecology clinics.

At the end of the day, I would sit with the interns on the labor floor and go over triage patients with them, taught them how to use the ultrasound (they rely on the ultrasound tech but I have always liked to do my own.) I think they enjoyed seeing that.

I taught the interns and residents some simple office procedures like endometrial biopsies. I think the hands-on teaching was much appreciated.

The power went out during a c-section surgery and I asked the people to shine their smartphone flashlights into the field.

The power went out during a c-section surgery and I asked the people to shine their smartphone flashlights into the field.

The attendings take calls every night for a week and all the C-Sections happen overnight so they are often tired and take breaks or nap which is totally reasonable. They gave me one day on the OR and I think it was a nice break for them.

The power went out during a C-Section and I asked people to shine their smartphone flashlights into the field.

I was shocked at the number of anemic patients admitted for blood transfusions. A typical admission was abnormal uterine bleeding with a hemoglobin of 6 requiring a blood transfusion. I saw probably 10 patients like this in two weeks. The blood bank cannot keep up with those demands and after the first unit of blood, the patient is told to go find blood donors.

Needed is education about diet and getting enough iron and vitamin C. The staple of rice and fish is not helping anyone’s iron stores!

I was also surprised at the volume of deliveries. The Tarawa Hospital does 150-200 deliveries a month and has a 15 percent C-Section rate.

Overall it was an incredible trip. I definitely plan to return.