Mohammad – once in a lifetime experience

Here is one of our most memorable thank you letters from Mohammad, who was able to leave Gaza for his elective in Oxford during the 2014 Israeli-Gaza war.

“My name is Mohammad; I am a sixth year medical student at the Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine. On 12th August 2014, I landed at Heathrow Airport after a 48-hour journey from Gaza. It isn’t easy to believe in miracles, but I did then, having left Gaza while it was under attack.

Straightaway I took the bus for Oxford; there was no time to waste since I was already eight weeks late for my course, I guess you know why! “How could you cope with the cultural shock?” was the question I was most frequently asked. It wasn’t easy to answer that, probably because I hadn’t had enough time to be shocked. I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to say how stunned I was by the amazing beauty of Magdalen College or the greatness of the John Radcliffe and Churchill Hospitals, while at the same instant my home university was being bombed, and the hospitals where I trained were being flattened.

Medically speaking, I had a huge paradigm shift. To imagine patients with oesophageal cancer living longer than 6 months from the time of diagnosis was difficult, but to see them living more than 10 years, sometimes even achieving a cure, was something of the impossible. Meeting with a 40-year old athletic who was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot shortly after birth was a shock, mainly because at my country, most of the patients I encountered that had this condition were to have a life expectancy of five! My finest moment during my elective was the time when I participated in a very complicated surgery: an ex-vivo partial nephrectomy for a renal cell carcinoma with kidney autotransplantation for a patient with a solitary kidney. This operation is only done in very few centres in the world.

The time I spent in Oxford made me realise that humans have limitless ability to be creative, to develop and to dream. It forced me to get out of the bubble, to think outside the box and to make a promise to do my best to offer my future patients the best treatment that can possibly be offered.

As my stay in Oxford was coming to an end, I tried to come up with a summary of all the wonderful things I experienced during my time there. I didn’t know which was greater: My meeting with Sir Terence English and Sir Iain Chalmers, or the beautiful encounter with Jumana and Shahd, two Palestinian girls from Jerusalem and West Bank I would never have met otherwise. And I still don’t know which was more wonderful: forging a new friendship with Josh, the Oxford University medical student, or seeing my old friend Saleem, the St Edmund Hall student who could not go back to Gaza to see his family and friends.

One more thought was brought to me by the harsh contrast between the two simultaneous realities, the one which I was going through in Gaza, the war and the ordeal, and the one I was enjoying in Oxford not more than 48 hours later. It made me realise that one should not allow himself to get used to being underprivileged, to be lost in between daily life difficulties and struggles, or to give up.”

Read more about the international training placement programme here