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BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0411426
  1. Ian P Palmer, professor of military psychiatry1
  1. 1London

You may think an article about how to survive if you are taken hostage is a bit far fetched for the Student BMJ, but medical students do either study in countries where their status puts them at risk or may want to work with a non-governmental organisation. Ian Palmer gives some advice


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Current events in the Middle East have heightened the risks of kidnapping and mistreatment. As a professor of military psychiatry, I am experienced in the issues surrounding hostage taking. I want to share this knowledge with colleagues who choose to work in hostile regions around the world. This article is based on the training I give to journalists, non-governmental organisations, British government employees, and armed forces personnel. It does not represent the views or opinions of the UK Ministry of Defence.


Sensible organisations send their employees on one of the more reputable courses on survival in a hostile region. So if you are contemplating working in a hostile region, attend a course. They act as psychological “security” by ensuring that you are properly briefed and know how to keep safe and avoid capture in the first place. Heed authorities' advice (see and See box 1.

Box 1: Rules of prevention

  • Be briefed and aware

  • Never travel alone

  • Always carry communications

  • Always ensure someone knows where you are going and when you are returning

  • Always vary your daily routine

  • Draw minimal attention to yourself


Most kidnappers have a plan so that they can control you and master the situation. So if you are kidnapped, you will be repeatedly threatened …

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