Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Review of the Week

A place where dreams turn to dust

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 15 April 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1489
  1. Jonathan Kaplan, war zone surgeon and writer
  1. kaplanj{at}

    A daily blog from an aid agency medic in Sudan, now an insightful book, dashes the romantic notion of achieving medical miracles in basic conditions, finds Jonathan Kaplan

    From a distance it seems easy, signing up to a humanitarian mission. Most doctors, at some stage in their training, dream of working somewhere extreme, applying their skills to alleviate the suffering of those caught in a disaster, a conflict, a refugee crisis, some place where a little doctoring goes a long way. There is the romantic notion that with basic equipment and idealistic resolve, medical miracles will be achieved. But the journey is vastly more complex, the rewards far less definable. All of us who return from these places leave something of ourselves behind.

    James Maskalyk was a young, recently certified emergency medicine specialist in a Toronto hospital when he accepted a six month assignment from Médecines sans Frontières (MSF) in 2007 to be a doctor in the contested town of Abyei, right on the fracture line between North and South Sudan. He did so because he wished to help, but …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription