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Student Life

Studying medicine in a war zone

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 08 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:j4380
  1. George Gillett, sixth year medical student
  1. University of Oxford, UK

George Gillett speaks to three Syrian medical students about life during the crisis

“When the crisis started, I was in high school. The situation was catastrophic. I was preparing for exams under daily bombardment and killing.”

Yusuf now studies medicine at Damascus University, Syria’s oldest medical school, but his studies remain compromised by the conflict. Power blackouts are a regular occurrence and the internet connection is sporadic. The quality of the teaching he receives has also been affected. He describes how “some of the good professors have left the country,” and he has far fewer opportunities to practise clinical techniques. He “wastes hours on the streets” travelling to classes, slowed down by military checkpoints and traffic jams.

Omar, a student at another Syrian medical school, says that on one occasion he was one of more than 60 students attempting to examine a patient who had been admitted to the emergency unit of his local teaching hospital with a traumatic chest injury.

“It is a regular occurrence; we often do not have the opportunity to examine patients during our clinical sessions,” he explains. Omar worries that he won’t be prepared for graduating as a doctor. “If I am stuck in this system, I will not become a good physician,” he says.

The conflict has also disrupted everyday life. Omar has been forced to move home eight times, and his mother, who has cancer, struggles to get her medicine. “We used to get the drug for free from the hospital, but the war has made this nearly impossible. Now we have to buy it from specific pharmacies, and it is 10 times more expensive,” Omar says.

Fearing for safety

Both Yusuf and Omar want their stories to be heard, but remain guarded, particularly when talking about politics or family life. They worry that being interviewed …

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