Smile Maker Profile: Dr. Ataklitie Baraki: Surgeon, Artist, and Photographer

Smile Train

Whether it is a scalpel, a paintbrush, or a telephoto lens, in the talented hands of Dr. Ataklitie Baraki, the result is always a masterpiece. Dr. Atakiltie is a practicing plastic and reconstructive surgeon from Ethiopia who has worked at many different institutions for the last 17 years. He is a fellow and Program Director at the College of Surgeons for East and Southern Africa (COSECSA) as well as the President of the Surgical Society of Ethiopia, an Executive Member of the Ethiopian Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons’ Society — and a graduate of an art academy. As part of the Smile Train family, he has brought radiant smiles to more than 4,000 cleft lip and palate patients and credits the organization for actively investing in capacity-building for professionals.

Dr. Ataklitie

“Smile Train is one of the few non-profit institutions I know of that embraces the true meaning of local capacity-building,” he said. “It has created opportunities for medical professionals to be the best at what they do. I have benefitted from their continuous professional development programs, which have built my confidence as a competent cleft surgeon. I am most grateful for being a partner in a space where so many cleft patients and their families’ lives have changed through Smile Train’s support.”

Dr. Ataklitie in his painting studio

After surgery, Dr. Ataklitie exchanges his scrubs for his painter’s coveralls to either stroke on a fresh canvas or complete a previous piece. He is drawn to fine arts, including painting with brushes, palette knives, watercolors, and charcoal pencils. His brush glides with inspiration from Caravaggio, Claude Monet, or contemporary Ethiopian artist Mezgebe.

Dr. Ataklitie strives to harmonize art and healing. In his research titled, “Bridging Humanities and Medicine,” he studies the effect of the humanities, including fine arts and photography, on patients.

“Plastic and reconstructive surgery (PRS) necessitates a three-dimensional imagination and a cut-as-you-go-along approach. This is why I believe it requires involvement from many people in the social sciences and that basic knowledge of photography is a prerequisite to be an accomplished PRS practitioner. I continue to create awareness among the Federal Ministry of Health and the College of Health Sciences on the importance of creating caring, compassionate, and respectful health professionals through teaching them the humanities,” explains Dr. Atakiltie.

Dr. Ataklitie holding a baby with a cleft

Among the many dilemmas the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, Dr. Ataklitie has witnessed first-hand the particular challenges it has brought to cleft care. He believes keeping cleft patients healthy during this time requires preparedness and concerted efforts within the healthcare community and the government to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

“I highly commend Smile Train for helping us through this difficult pandemic, supporting us during our worst period by providing relevant resources and tools to prevent transmission. In times like these, it is crucial that the Ministry of Health has ongoing discussions with the public on the ethical dilemmas COVID-19 causes, as we are dealing with a very rare and unique circumstance.”

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