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Published: 2023-02-16

Fellowship in Wales increases knowledge in pelvic surgery

PROFILE Martin Rutegård went to Swansea, Wales in the autumn of 2022 on a fellowship that runs until the autumn of 2023. In Wales, he combines clinical training with research and also has time to explore Wales with his family. With half the time left in the stay, we tuned in to hear about what it's like to travel away on a fellowship in another country.

Text: Heléne Andersson
Image: Martin Rutegård

What is your background? Education?

- I was born in Umeå, grew up mostly in Örnsköldsvik and trained as a doctor and did my postgraduate studies in Stockholm. I have undergone general and specialist training in Örnsköldsvik and Umeå, where I became a specialist in surgery in 2018 and an associate professor in surgery in 2019.

You are doing fellowship in Swansea, Wales. How did you happen to go there?

- I went here to advance my skills in pelvic surgery, especially in locally advanced rectal cancer, where the aim is to bring that expertise home to Norrlands University Hospital. Of course, there are also research elements that are closer to more usual postdocs, where I am investigating antibiotic treatment and the complication of anastomotic leakage in collaboration with colleagues here.

What is your research about?

- My research is generally about the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer, while in particular it concerns anastomotic leakage after rectal cancer surgery. It is a difficult but unfortunately common complication with major implications for both the patient and the wider healthcare system. For example, I am researching why patients suffer from leakage and how best to try to avoid this complication. The methodology is mostly large registry-based studies, but translational studies using serology, stool samples and tissue are also used. I am a co-investigator in randomized trials and plan my own in the future.

What drives you in your research? Why did you choose to start researching?

- Primarily I am driven by curiosity and that is what made me start research in the first place, but of course there is also the desire to improve care for patients. Anastomotic leakage has long been seen as a personal surgical failure, which I believe is a misconception and a view with harmful consequences for patients as well.

- I want to explore anastomotic leakage with the aim of reducing and eventually eliminating this complication, while offering patients surgery without the need for a stoma (pouch on the stomach). It's a long way to go, but if you don't start, you won't get there.

What would you say to those who are considering whether to go for a fellowship or a postdoc?

- Make up your mind first, and think later. There are lots of formalities/bureaucracy/hassle/concerns and if I were to list everything we went through before, during and probably after the stay, it is doubtful that we got away. At the same time, it's great to do this from so many perspectives: personally, family bonding, professional development, new friendships and not least the opportunity to try living in another country.

What do you miss most from Sweden?

- The snow, colleagues and family.

What is the best thing about Wales?

- The surgery, the beaches and the fantastic school we have for the children.

What do you like to do in your free time?

- Here in Wales I like to look at Roman and Norman ruins, while in Umeå I prefer a skiing session.

What are you most looking forward to in 2023?

- The rest of the stay here and excursions in the rest of the UK.

What are your future plans, what happens after the postdoc?

- I am looking forward to developing colorectal cancer surgery in the North with colleagues from different disciplines and regions. University health care needs to be constantly developed and defended, where of course the lack of resources is a concern. I also hope to be able to launch clinical trials in the long term, where hospitals in Norrland but also nationally can collaborate.