Megan Still works to increase access to surgical care in Sierra Leone

By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow

At the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, students are making a global impact through research and service. One notable example is Megan Still, M.D., a neurosurgery resident at UF Health and a Master of Science student in the department of epidemiology. Still combines her clinical expertise in neurosurgery with an academic interest in global health, working to increase access to safe, affordable surgical care for underserved populations.

Meghan Still, M.D., a neurosurgery resident and current Master of Science in Epidemiology student.
Meghan Still, M.D., a neurosurgery resident and Master of Science in Epidemiology student.

Still’s commitment to improving health outcomes recently took her to Sierra Leone, where she conducted a comprehensive needs assessment of training hospitals and collected epidemiological data on neurosurgical needs. Her research focuses on the most common causes of neurosurgical injury and barriers to care for specific regions or patient populations.

She has collaborated with several research groups working to estimate the global burden of disease, project expected burden of disease and determine the increased need for neurosurgeons in the coming decade. She has been working with the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies, or WFNS, Global Neurosurgery Committee since she was a medical student. In 2021, leadership from Sierra Leone’s teaching hospitals complex contacted WNFS for help with building the first public neurosurgery department in that country, Still said.

“We initially worked from a distance through email and Zoom, but luckily, I was able to secure the funding that allowed me to spend nine months in Sierra Leone during my research year to do the necessary on-the-ground data collection and development that is difficult to do from afar.”

Still chose to continue her education with PHHP’s Master of Science in Epidemiology to supplement her clinical training in medicine. Pursuing this degree, she says, has enhanced her background understanding of population-level studies to bring new methods of prediction to her research work.

In addition to conducting research, Still attended the WFNS Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, which brings together neurosurgeons from across the globe. Her team attended a session focusing on sustainable partnerships and projects with aims of improving access to neurosurgical care in under-resourced countries. Two neurosurgeons from Liberia and Gambia presented, sharing their perspectives as the only neurosurgeons in their respective countries and the process of starting a neurosurgery department with limited support and resources.

Still presenting at the WFNS Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

“It was fantastic to be able to see the progress made in those countries from the efforts of essentially just one person and to hear from them how strong they feel Sierra Leone’s department will be because of this multi-disciplinary, international support group we’ve been able to develop,” Still said.

Ultimately, Still hopes her research work will support efforts to increase surgical services for underserved populations in low-income countries.

“I think there’s a misconception that neurosurgical conditions are rare or too complex and high technology to be reasonable to do globally, but that is a fallacy,” she said. “Neurosurgical conditions are incredibly common and span a lifetime. I’ve operated on patients from 22 hours old to 94 years old and everywhere in between. Surgeries can be done well in low-resource settings in a very cost-effective manner.”

Still with members of the hospital and research teams.

Additionally, she says, neurosurgeons are heavily involved in prevention efforts for a variety of conditions and multi-disciplinary groups. It’s important to not only decrease the global burden of neurological disease, but also increase neurosurgical capacity through the upscaling of surgical infrastructure and medical systems to best support patients.

For Still, the best part about her experience in Sierra Leone was working with the research team.

“I was able to recruit 15 senior medical students and first-year residents to help with the data collection and writing, and this team was incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic. They really wanted to learn about the research process and how to use research to improve the medical systems in their country,” she said. “Apart from the data collection I had planned for my grant project, we already have several additional projects going based on their ideas of how to use the data.

“Not everyone wants to be a neurosurgeon, but they were all very interested in learning about neurosurgery to provide better care for their future patients and have all expressed interest in continuing this work to improve surgical systems in Sierra Leone. I hope to be able to continue to work with them and see the team grow as leaders in their communities.”