West Bank to Scotland: caring for cancer patients

In October 2017, four Palestinian nurses from Bethlehem University (BU) spent two weeks in Scotland learning about advances in caring for cancer patients, as part of a partnership between Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and BU to improve the quality of care for cancer patients in the West Bank. MAP spoke to the nurses in Bethlehem after they completed their training to see what they gained from the experience.

Why did you become an oncology nurse?

Karima: “I chose to be a nurse because my mother is a nurse and since I was a child I noticed how she works and cares for patients, so I knew right away that it is what I wanted to do. I did two weeks work experience and I fell in love with this speciality and since then I couldn’t imagine myself in any other job.”

Zahra: “I noticed that Palestine lacked the necessary skills in oncology nursing and I really wanted to participate in improving our skills and expertise so I can help develop the quality of oncology. I also have two friends that died due to cancer, and during that period I really wished I could do something more to help them. Now it feels good to be able to share something like ‘you’ve recovered’ to a patient.”

What were the main differences you saw between care in Scotland and in Palestine?

Dina: “There is a huge difference in how cancer patients are treated and what services they are provided with compared to in Palestine. The services they are able to provide to patients are much better, and patients are supported financially by the state. As nurses here, we try to give the best we can, but the facilities play a huge role. Even if we want to work on new programs or new interventions we don’t have the financial resources in order to do anything similar.”

Neda: “We barely have one minute with a patient! In Scotland they also have great palliative care, with pain management and house visits, even the nurse there is able to prescribe pain medication to the patient to take home with them. Here [in Palestine] we are unable to do that. We don’t even have a term like ‘palliative’, it is not really known or used.”

What did you learn from your placement in Glasgow and what was your experience of Scotland?

Zahra: “I feel that I achieved many things. From an academic perspective, it was a great benefit to observe how oncology is applied and practiced clinically. There are many things I have started to apply whether in my studies or at my place of work, and my professional capability has developed.”

Dina: “It was my first time leaving the West Bank, and it was like a dream, honestly! This is the first time I was able to see how people live differently from me. I got to experience a whole different world, which really changed the way I perceive things and motivated me to keep growing and gaining knowledge. In Palestine, I have about 16 patients per shift, so it’s a very heavy work load - even noticing this made me proud to be a Palestinian because I recognise now we really work very hard with the little resources we have. Also, people in Scotland are really nice - they’re always smiling! They were very generous and shared so much with us. We benefited educationally, socially, and more.”

Karima: “I appreciated the way Scottish people think about Palestinians. I really appreciated that they saw me in a positive light and they paid attention to who we are, not representations in the media. It has been a really great opportunity and blessing and something that encourages me, as a Palestinian woman, to continue to strive and have dreams and follow through with them.”

Unfortunately, for Palestinian medical workers living under occupation, the opportunity for such training is not without difficulties. Initially, nine nurses from Bethlehem University were due to go on the clinical placement in Glasgow, however, five of them had their UK visa applications rejected.

Part of the reason for the lack of medical specialisations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is the restrictions on freedom of movement. Israel’s permit regime prevents many health professionals and trainees in the West Bank and Gaza from being able to travel for short or long training fellowships or conferences elsewhere in the oPt or abroad. Further to this, the necessary permissions or visas to travel for training for Palestinians are also denied by other countries, including the UK, Egypt, and Jordan.

To read more about the barriers to the development of healthcare in the oPt, read chapter four of our Health Under Occupation report here.

MAP wishes to extend our thanks to staff at the Glasgow hospitals and is looking forward to welcoming more nurse students onto the Oncology diploma at Bethlehem University in the next cohort. This year, MAP will be starting a new breast cancer care project in the West Bank and Gaza. To read more about MAP’s work in breast cancer, click here. 


Cover photo: Two of the nurses in Glasgow with Gerry O’Hare, an oncology nurse based at the Vale of Leven Hospital was instrumental in setting up the post-graduate diploma.

Names have been changed to protect identities.