Washington was recently honored with the 2022 Alumni Humanitarian Award from the UW School of Medicine Alumni Association. In part, the award recognized her volunteer work since 2011 on medical missions to Rwanda with the International Organization for Women and Development.
As a traveling surgeon, Washington performs surgeries for obstetric fistula, a serious health concern for hundreds of thousands of women in developing nations. Obstetric fistula is an abnormal communication between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum that develops as a consequence of prolonged, obstructed labor. Women with this condition are incontinent of urine and/or stool, which often leads to chronic medical problems, depression and social isolation.
“To see patients go from significantly marginalized and demoralized to happy, joyful and recovered is incredible,” says Washington. “You don’t need to share the same language to understand their relief and joy.”
On each mission, the team does complex surgical procedures for more than 40 women, restoring their pelvic function and quality of life. The multinational team also partners with Rwandan students and physicians, teaching them evaluation, surgical techniques and post-operative care. Their long-term goal is for the Rwandan medical team to manage the program independently.
“It’s critically important to provide culturally competent care,” says Washington. “You need to develop relationships with the communities that you’re working in and understand what they need from their perspective.”
Washington also volunteers with The Links Incorporated, an international service organization of professional Black women. The Greater Seattle Chapter focuses on offering STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programming for underrepresented middle and high school girls in the Seattle area. The scholarship committee, which Washington chairs, has given out more than $2 million in college scholarships.
Yet Washington stresses that she’s just one of many people working together to improve her communities. “I am a puzzle piece in the bigger picture,” she says. “There’s no way that I do any of this work alone.”