Fellowship Feedback – Peter Taylor

I am immensely grateful for the invaluable opportunity to partake in the Travelling Fellowship program, affording me the privilege to visit Professor Bemelman and his esteemed team. The experience at the globally renowned Colorectal Unit surpassed even my lofty expectations. Allow me to delineate my journey in a structured manner:

Dear SASES/Medtronic Fellowship Committee

I am immensely grateful for the invaluable opportunity to partake in the Travelling Fellowship program, affording me the privilege to visit Professor Bemelman and his esteemed team. The experience at the globally renowned Colorectal Unit surpassed even my lofty expectations. Allow me to delineate my journey in a structured manner:

1. Introduction: Equipped with my Certificate in Colorectal Surgery obtained in 2021, I embarked on this fellowship brimming with practical knowledge. My tenure at WITS Donald Gordon Medical Centre since May 2021 provided a robust foundation that I aimed to further enrich during this exceptional opportunity.

2. Fellowship Duration (January to March 2024): Professor Bemelman advised a January commencement of the fellowship. However, the harsh winter climate in Amsterdam marked by freezing temperatures and incessant rain – posed challenges. Additionally, the gradual return of surgeons from leave during this period impacted services. I strongly recommend future fellows to consider alternative timing to mitigate weatherrelated disruptions.

3. Accommodation and meals: The cost of living in Amsterdam in notably high. Opting for accommodation farther from the hospital may reduce costs but entails reliance on public transportation. Medtronic might explore options like increased sponsorship or potentially adjusting the fellowship duration to manage budget constraints effectively.

4. Hospital (VUMC), Surgeons and Services: The VUMC, conveniently located near Amsterdam Zuid station, emerged as the central hub for Colorectal activities during my fellowship. With state-of-the-art theatres featuring the DaVinci robotic platform, the hospital significantly bolstered its surgical capabilities. Notably, the unit conducts over 6 theatre lists per week and hosts numerous Dutch-language multidisciplinary team meetings. Within this vibrant environment, more than 6 Colorectal surgeons operate, specializing in either inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer. Their collaborative spirit and seamless teamwork were truly inspiring. The unit’s scope encompasses a wide range of conditions, including Inflammatory Bowel disease, Low rectal cancers, Chronic pelvic sepsis, and advanced Colorectal Malignancies—a notable departure from earlier practices. Given the highly specialized nature of colorectal surgery at VUMC, I propose organizers to consider incorporating time at a regional facility offering general colorectal surgery for a broader exposure that could enrich the fellowship experience.

5. Insights from Observership: As an observer, I immersed myself in daily routines, meetings, and training sessions—all conducted in Dutch. Local trainees received priority as assistants, highlighting the importance of synchronizing with their schedules. My experience provided a glimpse into an environment with unrestricted resources, where world-class services and surgeries unfolded before my eyes. Differences in training programs between Amsterdam and South Africa underscored the need for adaptability and creativity. While complications in colorectal surgery are inevitable, the focus remained steadfast on achieving efficient management of these complications.

6. Leisure Time Exploration: The absence of obligatory after-hours or weekend work allowed ample time for exploration. I encourage future recipients to seize this opportunity. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Europe at large offer a plethora of cultural experiences. However, brace yourself for bustling summers and heightened costs due to global tourism.

7. Personal Advancement and Skill Enhancement: During my fellowship, I acquired new skills significantly enriching my surgical repertoire. Notably, I delved into lateral sidewall dissections and explored minimally invasive transanal surgery with a TAMIS course hosted by the Dutch Colorectal Society. This experience boosted my confidence, dispelling any lingering apprehensions associated with complex procedures. However, the most profound realization stemmed from understanding that South African surgeons need not harbour feelings of inferiority. Our rigorous training equips us exceptionally well, and our exposure to diverse pathology uniquely positions us to deliver excellent patient outcomes. With this newfound confidence and perspective, I am committed to positively contributing to our medical community.

Once again, thank you for this enriching experience. I eagerly anticipate applying the knowledge gained in my future endeavours.

Warm regards,

Peter Taylor