American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

2018 Surgical Humanitarianism Award: Roland R. Stephens

Dr. Stephens with volunteers

Roland R. Stephens, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from Berrien Springs, MI, received a Surgical Humanitarian Award for his 50 combined years of surgical care to underserved populations around the world, primarily at the Karanda Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe.

Working with The Evangelical Alliance Mission, in 1962 Dr. Stephens traveled with his family to what would become the Karanda Mission Hospital in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to provide surgical care to the medically underserved population near Mount Darwin, a remote town approximately 120 miles away from Harare, the nation’s capital. He was the only physician at Karanda Mission Hospital for five years. In addition to providing all surgical care, he also treated tuberculosis, malaria, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and a host of other medical problems. Dr. Stephens would regularly travel into the wild, undeveloped Zambezi Valley by plane or motorbike to visit clinics and triage patients to bring them back to the hospital.

His surgical and medical accomplishments are especially notable considering the environment. From 1964 until Dr. Stephens left in 1978, the area was involved in political strife that eventually deteriorated to a multi-faction civil war over the governance of the country, placing Karanda in an active combat zone. Firefights occurred near the hospital regularly, with stray bullets piercing homes and water tanks. Dr. Stephens treated casualties from all sides, often performing specialized plastic reconstructive surgery on patients disfigured through torture during the war years.

Beyond direct surgical and medical treatment, Dr. Stephens was instrumental in starting the Karanda School of Nursing in 1964 alongside a nurse from the hospital. Through the school, Dr. Stephens assisted in training medical assistants, general nurses, and midwives who worked in the hospital and the community. Additionally, he initiated the hydrocephalus treatment program, which today treats more than 100 hydrocephalic children annually and oversaw the construction and opening of the hospital’s tuberculosis ward, outpatient waiting shelter, and airstrip.

Dr. Stephens was forced to leave Karanda in 1978 because of the increasing danger of the war. While he practiced in Michigan from 1978–1995, he frequently traveled overseas on volunteer missions to underserved locations including Kenya, Rwanda, and Bangladesh. After retiring from active practice in the U.S. in 1995, he returned to Karanda to continue volunteering alongside his son, Daniel Stephens, MD, FACS, who had become, and remains, a leader at Karanda. The senior Dr. Stephens chose to work for the next 18 years, through his retirement and without remuneration, at Karanda to help fill the hospital’s needs.

Robert E. Cropsey, MD, FACS

Robert E. Cropsey, MD, FACS
Robert E. Cropsey, MD, FACS