How Operation Smile Academy heals cleft conditions in low-income countries

Operation Smile Academy is improving cleft care

Fast facts on Operation Smile Academy.Operation Smile Academy (OSA) is an all-access virtual learning platform.The platform is designed to assist medical education in low and middle-income countries.Operation Smile Academy's ultimate goal is to elevate the capacity for cleft care worldwide.Operation Smile Inc. is supported by more than 6,000 volunteers from over 60 nations

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, cleft lip and cleft palates can cause problems with eating and breathing in children, as well as speech and language delays. Those affected are also more likely to have ear infections, hearing loss and problems with their teeth.

Operation Smile’s newest branch, Operation Smile Academy, is on a mission to empower cleft care providers to mend cleft conditions in low- and middle-income countries. It’s important work, and Operation Smile Academy representative Cassie Rodriguez-Feo (OSA, Plastic Surgery PA-C) is spreading the word.

“Operation Smile Academy is a virtual learning platform that is open access, free access and designed specifically to enhance medical education for new providers in low and middle income countries,” Rodriguez-Feo told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Essentially, it is a centralization of all of the education efforts that Operation Smile has done in the past and is currently doing. It’s a place now where that information and those materials are consolidated so that those that are not able to go on in-person programs, or learn in the field necessarily, have access to those educational materials indefinitely.”

Following the pandemic, online learning began playing a larger role in education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 75% of all undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one distance education course in fall 2020. The number of students exclusively enrolled in distance education courses rose by 186% year over year.

“I think online learning is a concept that has been around for forever, but especially became more popular in the last couple of years on the heels of the pandemic,” she said. “We often take remote learning and remote mentorship for granted in higher income countries. It is not necessarily a given in low and middle-income countries or the areas that we’re actually trying to reach.”

In the end, it’s an organization dedicated to helping by educating.

“I think the pitch is that you have infinite viewing and reviewing of these materials,” she said. “Historically, when you learn cleft care, you are meant to retain everything that you learn from that experience and carry that knowledge with you forever. You don’t have resources to refer back to. So now you can watch and re-watch these videos, these lectures, these presentations and you have the ability to really refine the way that you learn cleft care. And I think the elevator pitch is just to elevate the capacity of cleft care and the way that we deliver it and that it is safer and more just up skill.”

It’s an organization about improving cleft care to save, enhance and cherish lives.

“The providers that are already working so hard in the field, they want to be better,” Rodriguez-Feo said. “They want to deliver better care. They want better outcomes. They want safer surgery for these kids. And I think that is ultimately our goal as well. And I think this is a tool that can be used. It’s not meant to replace in-person training. It’s meant to supplement it and create more of this hybrid, blended learning experience for new providers in these areas of the world.”

To bring Operation Smile Academy to the next level, the organization is looking to broaden its horizon of providers.

“I think as far as how can you help, monetary donations are always helpful because this is a free access platform and our volunteer faculty is just that — volunteer,” she said. “However, there is a lot of work that goes into video editing, producing live events, sharing materials and compensating for going to programs and capturing content.

“So there is a lot that is involved in that capacity. And then if there are medical providers that are also educators and interested in being a member of operations, Smile Academy’s faculty, then we would be happy to take a meeting with them and see what it is that they can offer.”

Those interested in donating to Operation Smile can do so here.