My Experience As A Field Doctor

My journey: 

As a medical doctor from a war-torn country, i’ve always had the motivation to deliver medical care for anyone who in need, especially for those who does not have the luxury of going to a Hospital. 

I graduated in November 2016 and during that time the conflict was reaching a dangerous peak of violence. Within three months i was able to start my new post as a resident doctor in Orthopedic surgery department. Then, for the next 2 years i worked in many medical and surgical departments as well as Emergency department. Of course healthcare system is different from the one in the UK but medical practice is still the same. 

Despite the difference i was able to make in people’s lives in the hospital, i’ve always felt that there is something more i can do. In November 2018 there was a good number of humanitarian report talking about how bad the situation is in refugee camps in Lebanon (a small country to the Southwest hosting around 1.5 million Syrians). I felt that i need to do something, so i applied for a job in a local organization in Lebanon and by the end of December 2018 i was accepted for a position of medical project coordinator. 

I knew how critical the situation is but what i saw was beyond my expectations. People were suffering on every level. The amount of support was too little compared to the actual need, refugees are not allowed to work and sometimes even moving freely in the country. 

The project was funded by two major organizations and focuses on delivering medical care for vulnerable diabetic patients. My main mission was to ensure that all seven clinics are functioning well and that all consumables and equipments are available. Of course there was a significant difference between what we call a normal clinic and our clinic but we were able to deliver care for more than 3500 patients. The job was not as easy as i thought because on many occasions there has been lack of medications which was a very important part of our work since it is quite expensive there. This issue was stressful for patients and the staff because this means that patients will be unable to control their glucose levels as they cannot effort buying the medication. 

A new approach was needed thinking to deliver medical attention for refugees knowing that there are hundreds of undiagnosed patients in camps who cannot visit our clinics. Thus a new plan was created to visit the camps and conduct a medical screening and education campaign for almost everyone who satisfy a specific criteria. There was a good number of volunteers from different nationalities who were happy to help and many pharmaceutical companies helped to support the project with the needed equipments. During the period of two months, more than 10 campaigns were already done screening more than 500 people and diagnosing tens of people with diabetes. 

The next step in the plan was to visit the newly diagnosed patients where ever they lived. That was quite tricky because of lack of safety measures in most cases and the difficulties in finding a way to reach the camps which was mostly located in areas lacking the basic services. However, the outcomes of this step was beyond expectations and most patients had controlled levels of blood glucose after few visits. New measures was taken to save time and costs. For example, when there was more than five patients in a camp, a group medical visit was used where patients with a similar condition can be seen in one room to discuss all of their questions and concerns at the same time. This approach was especially effective because patients started to help each other when medical attention was not available. Another useful 

measure was to use video call applications to communicate with patients in areas that were impossible to reach. 

Working in such a hostile environment required lots of skills that we as medical professionals do not learn at Universities. Being organized, emotionally stable, confident, curious and sympathetic. Despite being smart or skilled, there are critical things to consider (not only during this mission but during any mission around the world) which is having good social skills and attitude to engage with the supported community because it is the main key of success. 

What I’ve learned from 8 months of humanitarian work in Lebanon is that you cannot work in such environment unless you became one of the beneficiaries. I mean by that is to understand their culture and habits, be humble, put yourself in their position and protect their dignity. 

The faster you understand the huge difference between the mindset of a doctor in a hospital or clinic and the work in the field the better and more productive you become. 

In conclusion, working in the humanitarian field is one of the most rewarding things for any doctor or volunteer. The most important thing is to be flexible, well prepared and aware about safety measures for yourself and the beneficiaries. 

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Elliot is a St George’s graduate currently working as an F1 Doctor in East London. As the first in his family to apply to university, Elliot is well aware of the barriers that can be faced in trying to get to medical school. He is passionate about widening access to medicine for underrepresented groups.
 He was the representative for St George’s on the BMA Medical Students Committee, and has done lots of work with local schools and colleges to raise awareness of medicine as a career, as well as working on admissions policies with the widening participation team St George’s. Elliot is part of the @BecomingaDr outreach team and National Health Careers Conference Team.