Monday, October 30, 2017

From the Bench With Francis: My International Outreach Experience

From the Bench with Francis
A regular column on craniofacial news and technology by Dr. Francis Smith

My International Outreach Experience: Australia, UK, and Ireland, September 2017

My career has been evolving into a combination of craniofacial scientific research and public engagement and advocacy for awareness of craniofacial anomalies and the advances in medicine and research for them. My life experience with Treacher Collins syndrome has placed me in the unique position of an ambassador between the personal life experience side and research and medicine and the public. Back in my childhood and youth, I was occasionally featured in my local and state newspapers, on TV, and on radio to tell my story, and once authored a chapter in Jill Krementz’ 1992 book, How It Feels to Live with a Physical Disability. Over the years, my opportunities for public outreach have expanded. As I have ventured far and wide on this planet, I have gained a larger, global audience, having studied in the United Kingdom and gone on to work in the USA and Canada. My first overseas opportunity for public engagement through speaking was in 2010, when I presented an invited keynote lecture to the dental school at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. 

During my life in Canada from 2012-2015, I was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) TV and radio locally and nationally. When I moved back to the US in 2015, I did my first podcast (with BoneLab Radio at the University of California San Francisco, my PhD alma mater) and began contributing to the CCAKids Blog with my own regular feature, “From the Bench with Francis”. I have also spoken in churches and other public venues as well as in schools in the US and Canada in recent years. My memoir, Wonderfully Made: The Dr. Francis Joel Smith Story, authored by Michele DuBroy and myself, is in publication and should be released sometime next year.

I have recently ramped up my global drive for public engagement. Last year (January 2016), I made my first return visit to London since I finished my education there in 2007, and revisited my alma mater King’s College London, spoke to my old craniofacial department there, interviewed my old mentors at King’s, spoke at another university’s event, and even visited a colleague in Dundee, Scotland, to interview him too for my ongoing project of collecting video in-person interviews with craniofacial researchers.

This year has been especially busy. Last month (September 2017), I visited three countries—Australia, the UK, and Ireland. In March, I had met some new Australian colleagues at the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association (ACPA) meeting in Colorado Springs. Upon meeting me, they wanted me to come visit them in Australia the next chance I got. I finally got the opportunity to do so last month, and made my first ever trip to Australia (which had been a childhood bucket list item). 

So, from August 28 through September 6, I journeyed down under. I ended up in Perth, Western Australia. On Friday, September 1, I gave a talk to the craniofacial doctors and scientists at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children about my life experience with Treacher Collins syndrome, my educational journey, and my research experience. After my talk, my colleagues I had met in Colorado earlier this year took me through the craniofacial clinic there and on one of the wards to meet patients, doctors, families, and others. The next day (Saturday the 2nd), I spoke to a group of families—FaceUp, a local craniofacial family support group, about my life experience. Early in the following week, I gave yet another talk—to a group of geneticists at King Edward Hospital. Sometime during my week in Perth, I returned to Princess Margaret Hospital and met with a new research colleague who does 3-D camera imaging of children with craniofacial anomalies and morphometric analysis of their facial shape, to help surgeons plan surgeries and predict the ideal facial shape postoperatively. 

He expressed a greater need in Western Australia for more expertise. I have experience and expertise in craniofacial imaging and morphometrics (from working in Canada previously), and have put him in touch with my US and Canadian colleagues in craniofacial morphometrics. I have also expressed an interest in working there in Australia with my expertise in craniofacial morphometrics, if and when an opportunity (and funding) becomes available; they are keeping an eye open for one. I have also been invited to give a talk next May in Sydney as a guest speaker at their national cleft palate meeting.

After a week’s rest at home from my trip to Australia, I got right back on a plane on September 16—to London, England, to revisit my alma mater King’s College London and give talks there and at another university in the UK and meet colleagues in England and Ireland, for a fortnight (two weeks, in British English). I spent a week and a half in London, revisiting old neighborhoods and old haunts from my life there (2004-2007); I was right back at home there. I gave a talk to students and faculty in the craniofacial department at King’s about my life experience, education, and research, and met afterwards over drinks with students. I also met old friends in London during that week. Later that week, I visited the UK charity Changing Faces, and met with their executive staff, who expressed an interest in working with the CCA in the US on collaborative efforts at raising craniofacial awareness and promoting the upcoming film Wonder in the UK. I was instrumental in getting Changing Faces and CCA working together. I went up to Norwich and met another research colleague and gave a talk at his university, the University of East Anglia. There, I met with a family—all of whom have Treacher Collins syndrome to varying degrees. Later, I went to Manchester and interviewed with Dr. Michael Dixon, who found the gene for TCS in the 1990s, for my interview project. After my week and a half in London, I flew to Dublin, Ireland (my ancestral homeland) to visit a craniofacial surgeon colleague who works at Temple Street Children’s Hospital and Mater Hospital in Dublin. In our discussion, he expressed a great need for craniofacial scientific research there in Ireland, and I expressed an interest in helping him if I could think up a research proposal. My colleagues in the UK and Ireland are aware of my search for a new research position there, and I hope I can eventually find one there, if not in Australia or (less likely) the US. Since London was my first home away from home, and my career in craniofacial research was birthed there, I yearn to return to London one day and work there…once a Londoner, always a Londoner.

My current postdoctoral fellowship here in Denver ends April 2018, so wish me the best in finding my next position—in Australia, the UK, Ireland, etc. Meanwhile, my public engagement work will continue to take me to parts unknown on this planet. In fact, my next trip is to Bauru, Brazil, for three weeks in November, to visit the Hospital for Rehabilitation of Craniofacial Anomalies, a whole hospital dedicated just to craniofacial research and treatment. That might open future opportunities for my career, too!

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