Asfari-MAP Scholar wins medical prize: “MAP has changed my life forever!”

In 2015, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), in partnership with the Asfari Foundation, granted four one-year scholarships for Palestinian medical and health professionals to undertake a postgraduate Master’s degree at universities in the UK. We covered their stories in previous editions of Witness, MAP’s biannual supporter magazine.

The scholars have since returned to their medical schools and completed their medical degrees. We caught up with one Asfari-MAP scholar, Aida Shaar, who has been back in the UK this week to accept an award from The British Thoracic Society for the research she conducted on her MSc programme.

Could you tell us a bit about your Masters programme in the UK?

“I came to the UK on my scholarship in September 2015. I took a year out of medical school to come to Kings College London and study an MSc in Human and Applied Physiology before going back and completing my final year of medicine at Al-Najah University in Nablus.

I always had a dream of coming to the UK to do an MSc and I wanted to do physiology. It was my first time to Europe - I was so excited about everything in London. I was taking pictures of everything, even the underground – always taking pictures! There was a lot to adapt to but it was a great year for me.

The education system here is very different. You have to read and critically analyse what you learn and do lots of essays. The practical exercises we have in the medical school in Palestine are not as advanced as the UK. I think it has changed the way I look at things and the way I learn - I learnt a lot from the MSc.”

Tell us about the award you have just won

“We got the chance to do a research project at the end of the MSc year. I was so lucky, I got a great supervisor and I did it at the Respiratory Muscle Lab, which is the only one in the whole of the UK, so I got to do real experiments which was very good. My project won the ‘Best Medical Student Abstract’ prize from the British Thoracic Society, so I was really lucky to have the opportunity to do this project.

The British Thoracic Society is a very important organisation, and this week I was there picking up my award! It was really amazing. For this competition there was only two awards. My abstract was ‘highly commended’. I got a certificate and even received prize money, which I wasn’t expecting! I had to do a presentation on my research in front of 50 people, they were all professionals, it was really good. Usually you have to pay a lot of money to attend a conference like this, so this was a huge privilege.”

What does the future hold for you now?

“Now I am doing my internship with the Ministry of Health [equivalent to the British F1 foundation year in medicine] in order to get my medical licence. I am learning a lot, but it’s not optimal. Maybe in other places, like in the UK, they learn much more in their F1 year. I will be doing part-time lecturing in Physiology when I return as well, so I can use the things that I learnt in the UK and teach many students back in Palestine. Doing the MSc has given me all these opportunities - MAP has changed my life forever!

In the future I hope to be a paediatrician. If I come back to the UK in the future, it will be in order to get the best training, and then go back to Palestine. The whole point of me getting the training is for this, because Palestine needs more doctors. There are good doctors in Palestine but not many specialities. Perhaps only two paediatric endocrinologists, so if a child is sick, they have to travel to see a doctor. Sometimes it’s in Jerusalem and they will need a permit, so there is not much accessibility.”

What do you think are some of the greatest health challenges to healthcare in the West Bank at the moment?

“There are a lot of health challenges in the West Bank. For example, we do not have well-established primary health care. So, if somebody gets sick, we don’t have a family doctor to go to. I know MAP supports a family medicine project at Al-Najah University where it trains GPs and this is very good. If, for example, my grandmother is ill, there is no one to make the initial decision of where she should go because she doesn’t have a family doctor. Whilst going directly to a specialist can be helpful, they only look at illness from their own lens, so if the problem is not related to their field, they will not know what to do or how to detect the real issue if it is not to do with them. I think this is a major problem.

It is also very difficult and frustrating when patients are waiting for permits just so they can get treatment, and it is not easy to get doctors to come to the patients from other hospitals because it is not easy or quick to travel through checkpoints.

MAP is doing a lot in Palestine. I see the logo on the hospitals and it’s doing a lot in the Burns Unit in Hebron. I keep up-to-date with the newsletter as well! It does great work in Palestine.”

To find out more about how MAP supports the development of Palestinian healthcare, click here.

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