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

2019 International Volunteer Award: Richard W. Furman

Dr. Furman listening to a child’s heartbeat at a Loma de Luz, Honduras, mission hospital in 1989

Dr. Furman listening to a child’s heartbeat at a Loma de Luz, Honduras, mission hospital in 1989


Richard W. Furman, MD, FACS, a cardiothoracic surgeon from Boone, NC, received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his long career of providing medical care to underserved patients around the world and for cofounding World Medical Mission (WMM).

After beginning his medical missionary work with a trip to India in 1977 to teach pacemaker insertion to local medical workers, that same year Dr. Furman and his brother, Lowell B. Furman, MD, FACS, a 2003 recipient of the ACS Surgical Volunteerism Award, worked with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief to create WMM and fill a global medical need for short-term, volunteer assignments in low-income settings. In its second year, WMM sent seven physicians to areas of need; in its third, it sent 18; more than 40 years later, WMM sends approximately 600 volunteer medical professionals annually to underserved areas and recently sent its 10,000th volunteer. WMM volunteers now serve in 45 overseas hospitals, with more facilities in the process of receiving or requesting support. Dr. Furman has operated in many of these hospitals, on conditions ranging from common breast and colon cancer to more unique cases, including a thoracotomy to remove an arrowhead embedded in connective tissue between the aorta and superior vena cava.

One of WMM’s greatest successes has been in providing more permanent placement of physicians in these foreign hospitals. As many hospitals in low-income countries closed or were turned into nurse-run clinics, it became evident that these locations needed more U.S. physicians. To that end, WMM began the Post-Residency Program, which provided a two-year, on-site fellowship in global medicine. The purpose of the fellowship, which includes a stipend and travel and living expenses, is to place physicians in locations for long-term commitments. Since 2004, more than 185 physicians have participated in the fellowship program, and more than 80 percent of them have stayed in those locations beyond their initial commitment.

Dr. Furman in 2005 moving a gunshot wound patient approximately 10 miles—from Lui Mission Hospital, South Sudan, into air transport headed to Kenya

Throughout his time with the WMM, Dr. Furman has been active in visiting areas that require surgical or medical attention as the result of a natural disaster or war. During the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia (also known as Blackhawk Down), he set up emergency care for wounds. He and other surgeons traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, a month after the Rwandan genocide because an entire hospital had been routed. He provided surgical care after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, 2015 Nepal earthquake, and 2016 Ecuador earthquake, and he operated in an emergency field hospital outside of Mosul, Iraq, in 2017, treating both enemy combatants and Iraqi citizens.

Dr. Furman has been a long-time advocate for sending U.S. medical aid to countries that need it most. He regularly traveled to Africa with former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, MD, FACS (R-TN), to hospitals in low-income countries to assess their needs, which eventually led President George W. Bush to implement a program to provide more than $15 billion in aid to 15 countries. Beyond this indirect influence, Dr. Furman has helped to secure medical resources for WMM’s physicians and hospitals; in the last decade, the organization has sent more than 585 20-foot containers of equipment and supplies, valued in excess of $46 million, to these locations.

Sherry M. Wren, MD, FACS, FCS(ECSA)

Sherry M. Wren, MD, FACS, FCS(ECSA)
Sherry M. Wren, MD, FACS, FCS(ECSA)
Sherry M. Wren, MD, FACS, FCS(ECSA)