Alum-funded travel and research award allows residents to improve access to neurosurgery care in Bolivia

Three men and a woman pose while two of them hold a picture that shows two residents in green scrubs and a doctor in a white coat

Alum-funded travel and research award allows residents to improve access to neurosurgery care in Bolivia

New program expands global health opportunities for UC Davis Health trainees


In 2019, the Global Neurosurgery Initiative found that five million people worldwide are unable to access the neurosurgical treatment needed to save their lives or prevent neurological disability.

“Addressing this care gap is a key component of our department's service mission,” said Kia Shahlaie, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Neurological Surgery.

For that reason, the department recently established the UC Davis Dr. Jared Ament Global Neurosurgery Travel Award. It allows resident physicians to spend time caring for patients, training and researching at Hospital Santa Bárbara in Sucre, Bolivia.

Shahlaie hopes this invaluable experience will promote career-long interest in global neurosurgery. The award is made possible by a donation from Ament, a former UC Davis neurosurgery resident and prominent Southern California physician.

“It is important that we make our expertise available to our regional, national and global communities," Shahlaie said. “We are so grateful for Dr. Ament’s gift.”

The department celebrated the inaugural travel award at the recent Global Neurosurgery Symposium hosted by UC Davis Health. The new award is timely, in part because UC Davis recently launched the Center for Global Health to accelerate its longstanding efforts in providing care abroad. In addition, the Department of Neurological Surgery already participates in service and research connections in communities in Kenya, Indonesia, Ukraine and other countries.

A woman and a man in medical scrubs, masks and hair nets stand at Hospital Santa Bárbara in Sucre, Bolivia
UC Davis neurological surgery residents Anzhela Moskalik, left, and Jose Castillo at Hospital Santa Bárbara in Sucre, Bolivia.

Ament’s gift adds Bolivia to the list of countries where UC Davis residents can serve.

“Ament has a long and impressive history of commitment to global health. His decision to give back to the residency program in this way is greatly appreciated,” Shahlaie said.

Jared Ament is a UC Davis alumnus and global health visionary

Ament, a UC Davis neurological surgery resident alumnus and co-founder of Neurosurgery and Spine Group in Santa Monica, California, is passionate about neurosurgery with a global health focus. His goal for the new collaboration between UC Davis and Hospital Santa Bárbara is to enhance neurological surgery access and treatment outcomes in Sucre, the capital of Bolivia. The program is run in partnership with Solidarity Bridge, an Illinois-based organization that provides access to surgical care in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Ament creates programs built on continuity and sustainability. “My goal,” Ament said, “is to facilitate residents leading impactful public health research year over year with the same organization as they pass the torch from cohort to cohort.” He added: “I’m excited to be collaborating with the UC Davis residents on a year-round basis to share knowledge and provide services in collaboration with our Bolivian partners.”

While residents spend a week in Bolivia, their research commitment lasts a full year.

On a mission to learn and serve: Residents share their experience

The recent UC Davis Health symposium featured a segment dedicated to sharing news about the new travel award.

A male and a female neurological surgery resident in scrubs smile before shelves of patient records they began digitizing
UC Davis neurological surgery residents Jose Castillo, left, and Anzhela Moskalik began digitizing patient records at Hospital Santa Bárbara in Sucre, Bolivia.

Anzhela Moskalik and Jose Castillo, fourth-year neurosurgery residents who received the first award and traveled to Bolivia in November, reported on their weeklong service experience at Hospital Santa Bárbara. Moskalik called her service in South America one of her most formative experiences as a resident.

“While operating provided us with the immediate reward of watching our patients improve, the focus of global neurosurgery is to introduce long-lasting improvements to patient outcomes,” Moskalik said. “Our main goal was to set up a neurotrauma database to find areas of improvement and later to introduce small changes and evaluate their effect.”

One of the improvements is to help Hospital Santa Bárbara modernize its neurotrauma program by helping to upgrade its paper-based patient records. Moskalik and Castillo developed a simple smartphone app that converts photographs of patient records directly into Excel tables that could be analyzed.

The app, Castillo said, puts minimal strain on staff.

Castillo hopes that their work at Hospital Santa Bárbara can be adapted to serve the entire country and improve neurological surgery outcomes on a large scale.

Perspectives into practice

Moskalik and Castillo now have a different outlook on their roles as neurosurgeons.

“I more deeply value the emotional toll medical expenses take on patients and their loved ones and how this impacts healing,” Castillo said. “Now, I think twice before recommending things that might not truly influence a decision.”

Jared Ament
I think gaining perspective through your lived experience makes you a better person and a better neurosurgeon.” Jared Ament, UC Davis neurological surgery resident alumnus

These are exactly the kinds of insights Ament hopes individual residents will come away with.

“Understanding what resources are available here versus elsewhere helps us to cultivate gratitude and graciousness,” Ament said. “I think perspective is always important. If you don’t choose to pursue a global focus in your practice, that’s okay. I think gaining this perspective through your lived experience makes you a better person and a better neurosurgeon.”