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Mentorship pair improving cardiovascular care in Mozambique

The 2022 Women As One Escalator Awards matched Heather Gornik, MD, and Irina Mbanze, MD, together through the Mentor-Match Award. The 12-month award program provides funding for cross-institutional pairings to put towards a defined project completed within the award year. With Dr. Gornik based in the United States, and Dr. Mbanze in Mozambique, their pairing was a unique opportunity for international collaboration.

The pair’s award project focused on optimizing clinical cardiology services at Dr. Mbanze’s home institution, the Maputo Central Hospital in Mozambique. Over 12 months, they created a 13-session Portuguese curriculum specifically designed for nurses without a cardiology background. They also worked to design a patient registry and devise a plan to restructure cardiology services at Maputo Central Hospital. Their overarching goal was to reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases in Mozambique through improved cardiology services.

“This mentorship allowed me to learn how to conduct a small project – how to organize it, proceed according to institution rules and work with colleagues to implement it,” said Dr. Mbanze. “The context is completely different from developed countries such as the USA. We have limitations in the number of cardiologists, lack of equipment, few nurses working and nurses without training in cardiovascular medicine. We also have a limited data registry because we still work with paper. Dr. Gornik helped me to organize every part of the project of improvement of the service where I work, also introducing me to well-known sources of expertise who aided me with the project.

During the year-long formal mentorship, the pair met at Dr. Gornik’s home institution, the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute based at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, for a two-week immersive learning and collaboration experience. While there, Dr. Mbanze focused on her primary areas of interest in cardiovascular medicine, including cardiovascular imaging, heart failure, and service line structure.

“I was really proud to show our wonderful, world-class cardiovascular program to her,” said Dr. Gornik. “I think she took back a lot of pearls in terms of imaging with echo and advanced modalities. During her time with us, Dr. Mbanze was also exposed to many different pathologies that she doesn’t necessarily see routinely. She was able to observe our operations and generate many ideas about how to structure programs at her hospital.“

“This mentorship showed me that we can always be better than yesterday,” expressed Dr. Mbanze. “I will keep forever in my mind the human qualities of Dr. Gornik, who was always very kind with everyone and always ready to teach and help others. The respect that her colleagues have for her was clear, and the resulting teamwork was amazing.”

It’s not only mentees who benefit from mentorship relationships. With initiatives such as the Women As One Escalator Awards, there is also the potential for reciprocal knowledge acquisition and personal development for both the mentor and mentee.

“This project in particular was so much fun and such a challenge for me,” shared Dr. Gornik. “I’ve been a mentor my whole career to people in various stages of training in cardiology and vascular medicine in North America, but I’ve never mentored someone internationally in a resource-poor setting. I really learned a lot about practicing cardiology in Africa, the challenges there, and the importance of being adaptable. I also learned a lot about cardiovascular disease in Africa, including the higher prevalence of different disease processes. And honestly, I think I have made a friend for life in Dr. Mbanze.”

Since the end of the 12-month award period, the cardiology nurses at Maputo Central Hospital have all been trained. Drs. Gornik and Mbanze continue to meet monthly and are now looking to partner with another hospital in Mozambique on a similar project. They hope to train more nurses, spreading the benefits of their partnership even further. Their planned patient registry has also been set up, with the data collected helping to drive the restructure of cardiology services needed to improve patient cardiovascular health. Dr. Mbanze also recently published a manuscript comparing cardiovascular imaging practices across continents with Dr. Suvasini Lakshmanan, a mentee winner of the 2022 Escalator Awards, in the European Heart Journal Imaging Methods and Practice.

Drs Gornik and Mbanze demonstrated how cross-institutional mentorship can prove incredibly fruitful for physicians, even across multiple time zones. Women As One hopes to continue to match successful mentorship pairs and share the stories of their work to inspire increasing global collaborations among women. More information about the 2024 Escalator Awards will be available later this year. Women physicians – join the Talent Directory so you can hear about next year’s opportunities as soon as they’re announced.

Heather Gornik, MD, is the Co-Director of the Vascular Center at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute and Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Irina Mbanze, MD, is a cardiologist at Maputo Central Hospital, Maputo, Mozambique.

The Women As One Escalator Awards are an annual recognition of highly qualified women physicians taking action to improve patient care in their specialty. The Escalator Awards aim to fortify the pipeline of women leaders in medicine through targeted funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities. By providing support and visibility to talented women physicians, we hope to develop a more equitable healthcare workforce. To learn more, visit