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Introducing the Newest Matolase Mtonga Scholarship Winners

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Today, there are only three female surgeons for every 1 million people in low-income countries. ReSurge International and SkinCeuticals are working to close this gap through the Pioneering Women in Reconstructive Surgery (PWRS) Program.

In 2021, we tragically and unexpectedly lost the life of one of our pioneering surgeons, Dr. Matolase Mtonga. We established the Matolase Mtonga Annual Scholarship in her name to continue her legacy.

We have expanded the scholarship program this year, and we are proud to announce the five winners of the second annual 2023/24 Matolase Mtonga Scholarship! Each winner was provided a scholarship in the amount of $2,500 (USD) to support their training in medicine. These five powerful women have dedicated their careers to enacting change in their community.

Dr. Misha Abayney, Ethiopia

Unnecessary delays in the healthcare system can create a rippling effect, ultimately impacting the quality of care a patient receives. For Dr. Misha Abayney, tackling these delays with artificial intelligence and machine learning was a natural next step. Dr. Abayney noticed that pathology reports for dermatological skin lesions could take months, leaving reconstructive surgeons limited when constructing their surgical plan. She is developing a tool that can advise a surgeon on the nature of a skin lesion intraoperatively using a trained algorithm that can identify malignant lesions. Dr. Abayney hopes to use her background to lead the first center in Ethiopia dedicated to applying artificial intelligence to plastic surgery. Ever since she was a young girl, Dr. Abayney has strived to “live for something meaningful”, and this scholarship puts her one step closer to that goal by supporting her education in public health.

Dr. Tigist Zewude Siyoum, Ethiopia

“I learned about the healing power of love and care as a child from my mother’s careful nursing whenever I felt unwell”. Dr. Tigist Zewude Siyoum wants to spread this same love and care to her patients as she continues her journey in reconstructive surgery. Through every cleft palate surgery she does, she has noticed the impact this love and care can have on a newborn child. Dr. Siyoum hopes to continue supporting those with craniofacial deformities throughout her career, and this scholarship will help her bring smiles to her patient’s faces. With an unexpected medical diagnosis in her family, Dr. Siyoum has been spread thin trying to support her family financially, and this scholarship will help her fund some of her essential equipment.

Dr. Rahel Getachew, Ethiopia

While working as a general practitioner in a small town located 240 km outside of the capital, Dr. Rahel Getachew noticed that many patients were unable to access congenital, post-burn, post-trauma care at their hospital due to a lack of plastic surgeons. These patients were referred to the capital hospital, and many of these patients were unable to receive appropriate care in a timely manner, if at all. Dr. Getachew noted, “imagine being a parent to a child born with a cleft lip and not being able to provide adequate treatment for them…[this] gave me the insight that I need to be a part of the solution”. She hopes to fill this gap by working at smaller institutions like the ones she trained at, such that she can provide lifesaving care to those who need it most. She intends on using the funds to pay for her examination fees on her journey to becoming a reconstructive surgeon.

Dr. Natalie Muhia, Kenya

Reconstructive surgery is a powerful field, with the ability to drastically alter the way people complete simple tasks. Dr. Natalie Muhia wants to support her patients through the journey of regaining function in their arms and hands as a specialist in hand microsurgery. Dr. Muhia recognizes, however, that with this ability comes an equal amount of sorrow and struggles. While pursuing this career, she wants to ensure she is able to prioritize her own wellbeing, such that her patients are able to get the best version of her as their surgeon. Dr. Muhia hopes to utilize the scholarship to pay for long term therapy, such that she can share the burden of her difficult line of work, while continuing to help those around her.

Dr. Mercy Makena, Kenya

For Dr. Makena, working at Lodwar County and Referral Hospital opened her eyes to the impact she could have as a reconstructive surgeon. She was able to provide free surgical camps at local sites including the Kakuma Refugee Camp, and the impact she had on a daily basis pushed her even further into the field. It was jarring for her to see: “a majority of these patients would either succumb to their injuries or suffer long hospital stays”. Dr. Makena hopes to use her background to treat congenital anomalies, tumor excision wounds, and trauma. She is grateful for the scholarship funds which she can use towards more supplies for her clinic and her medical training.

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Written by Vaibhavi Shah, ReSurge Medical Student Volunteer

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