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Student Life

Sarajevo healing

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 01 March 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:0603124
  1. Jason H Wasfy, medical student1
  1. 1Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Medical aid in disaster zones cannot be transient. Health problems continue for many years afterwards, as Jason H Wasfy explains

For me, one of the hardest lessons of medical school emerged when I spent two months living in Sarajevo as a visiting medical student, gathering information about the consequences of the siege during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. The image from my summer in Sarajevo that I'll never forget is a panorama of long rows of white stones. I saw those stones every day. I could see them walking from my apartment in Sarajevo's city centre towards the medical school and main teaching hospital. Each stone commemorated the life of someone who had died in the Bosnian war. Far too many civilians are in Bosnian war graves, including mass graves that no one has yet exhumed. Nothing could have impressed on me just how much suffering the war inflicted as that ghastly image, which extended over several hills towards the horizon.

Jeroen Oerlemans/panos

Continuing medical needs

Like many other medical students, I chose a career in medicine because I want to relieve suffering. Since so much suffering occurs in situations of mass trauma, I have a particular interest in helping populations in acute trauma situations, such as wars and natural disasters. I went to Bosnia to learn more about how the medical community in Sarajevo coped with the health challenges of ethnic conflict. What I learnt was that those of us who plan careers in disaster medicine and acute trauma need to focus more on preparing to deal with trauma situations that have disappeared from newspaper headlines. For good reason, many medical students are concerned about ongoing conflicts, famines, and natural disasters. But my journey in 2004 through Sarajevo's still recovering healthcare system showed me that young doctors in training must not …

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