Catherine R. deVries, MD, FACS, is a Harvard, Duke and Stanford graduate who teaches surgery and public health at the University of Utah and Stanford, along with engineering innovation for the developing world.

She is now the recipient of the 2012 Surgical Humanitarian Award of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and Pfizer.

The ACS is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons, founded in 1913, and it raises the standards of surgical practice and improves the care of the patient. And Dr. Catherine deVries is the epitome of raising those standards.

Dr. deVries received the award for devoting a great part of her career to ensuring the provision of surgical care to underpriviledged populations without expectation of reimbursement. She was one of five ACS members who received a surgical volunteerism award at an awards dinner held last week during the ACS Annual Clinical Congress in Chicago, IL. The volunteerism awards are given “in recognition of those surgeons committed to giving something of themselves back to society by making significant contributions to surgical care through organized volunteer activities.” Some of her colleagues believe that her biggest achievement has been growing a small startup nonprofit organization that first ran out of her home into a premier global organization that is viewed as the go-to group for urology training in poor parts of the world.

Dr. deVries started her international volunteer career when she visited Honduras with the nonprofit organization Interplast. In 1994, Dr. deVries founded International Volunteers in Urology (IVUMed), the first nonprofit organization specifically focused on teaching urological care in settings with limited resources; IVUmed serves thousands of patients in need. Their work is spread through Latin America, Asia and Africa.

She serves as a member of the World Health Organization’s Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis and the Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgery Committee. She was the first female member of the board of chairmen of the Société Internationale d'Urologie, where she serves as chair of the International Relations Committee. 

Dr. deVries took a few moments to answer some questions for us. 

Who inspired you to get involved with volunteering your time to those less fortunate?  

"I had wanted to do something meaningful since I was a kid. Initially, I thought it would be in the Peace Corps, but while I was in medical school and residency, I had a professor who had founded Interplast, a nonprofit organization that provided surgical care and education for cleft lip and palates. My professor, Dr. Donald Laub, and I saw a need for reconstructive urological surgery for people in poor countries. We began to set up educational programs to train doctors to care for their patients in some of these countries around the world, and that has led to a career in global surgical education."

What was the hardest place to do your volunteer work?  

"There are many places where we can serve patients directly, but the greater challenge, I think, is to make it sustainable, by training doctors. It can be hard to find the right doctors working in the right conditions to make the training stick, and for them to carry on the work when we are not there. Some places take longer than others, and in some places we haven't been successful. Nepal has been difficult because of the political situation, and because of nursing and doctor's strikes."

Who is your biggest role model?

"Could I mention two? My dad, Dr. Pieter deVries, was a pillar in pediatric surgery in his day. I value his  devotion to the care of children even more as I have grown through my own career. And Dr. Don Laub, whose belief in students remains unflagging, and who has inspired me and many others to share our training and skills overseas."

What are your plans for the future? More volunteering? More teaching?

"I spend half of my time these days, traveling and supporting global surgical training, which includes not only overseas work but work with rural and underserved populations in the States. After 18 years, I remain the President of the nonprofit, IVUmed, which is active in almost 30 countries. In the last year, we also started a program, the Center for Global Surgery at the University of Utah, which  helps students and faculty collaborate in training and research focusing on ways to make surgery more affordable and accessible, even in the States."