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Lessons from childhood influence a career in academic medicine

Published: July 11, 2019 By: Tripp Miller
Salam O. Salman, MD, DDS, a UF Health oral and maxillofacial surgeon, takes part in mission trips each spring to Palestine, bringing his expertise to patients who otherwise would not have access to it. View Larger Image
Salman, seated third from right, is joined by other medical professionals, who are displaying papers representing their home countries. View Larger Image

OMFS physician Salam O. Salman, MD, DDS, takes part in annual mission trips to Palestine.

Salam O. Salman, MD, DDS, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at UF Health Jacksonville, is fortunate.

The son of a Palestinian chemical engineer who was three times displaced by war in the Middle East, Salman knows this to be true.

“There are 6 to 7 million Palestinian refugees in the world. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be a U.S. citizen and have the lifestyle that my parents were able to give us,” he said. “That makes me want to do something.”

Salman was born in Kuwait, but was able to immigrate to the United States during the first Gulf War thanks to his father’s education. That taught him and his siblings a valuable lesson, which is why he has pursued a career in academic medicine.

It’s also why Salman is involved with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and participates in a mission trip to Gaza or the West Bank each spring. Along with a group of surgeons covering multiple specialties, including pediatric neurosurgery, cardiovascular, cardiothoracic, urology, orthopaedics and more, Salman visits the Palestinian territories to bring his expertise to patients who otherwise would not have access to it.

“The biggest factor there is the training and education level of the local surgeons,” said Salman, an assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “It’s not at the level that we get in Europe or in the United States, so they’re not able to do more complex things.”

But for Salman, it’s not sufficient to simply drop in, help out for a week and pat himself on the back on the flight home. So he spearheaded a survey to really drill into the local needs of the people he’s been serving for a decade. The results were published in the Journal of Surgical Research under the title “Improving Surgical Outreach in Palestine: Assessing Goals of Local and Visiting Surgeons.”

The goal was to determine the specific needs of the population served and tailor future missions to meet those needs.

“It would be a great day for us to never have to come back,” Salman said. “I would be very happy if there was no longer a need for us to come. Ultimately, that’s the goal.”

While Salman performs cleft lip repairs for 3- and 4-month-old babies, cleft palate repairs for 1-year-olds and the ensuing secondary procedures such as bone grafts and jaw surgeries in the ensuing years, he also takes time to educate local surgeons. It’s the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish.

Palestinian surgeons — 92 percent of those who participated in the survey — indicated they desired protected time for didactic teaching during each mission trip. The same proportion also stated they best learn new techniques by performing skills on patients under observation by expert surgeons who can provide real-time feedback.

In addition to didactic teaching time and observing local surgeons in the field, Salman has begun giving free, online lectures for Palestinian surgeons so he can continue serving even when he is on the other side of the globe. Palestinian surgeons can access lectures on mandible fractures or orthognathic surgery or head and neck cancer — the same talks Salman gives for OMFS residents at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

“We’re not going there to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Look, I’m helping people, but to further educate them so that they can take care of themselves is the ultimate end goal,” Salman said.

Salam O. Salman, MD, DDS, a UF Health oral and maxillofacial surgeon, takes part in mission trips each spring to Palestine, bringing his expertise to patients who otherwise would not have access to it.
Salman, seated third from right, is joined by other medical professionals, who are displaying papers representing their home countries.

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