Transplanting skills: A surgical bridge from the UK to East Jerusalem

10 August 2012

10 August 2012   
East Jerusalem, West Bank

On their Christmas vacation in 2009, Robin and Magdalena Kincaid took their three small children on a family trip to Bethlehem. Crossing the checkpoint to and from Jerusalem, they were surprised at the delays faced by ambulances, and the refusal to admit patients without permits – irrespective of their need.

As doctors from the United Kingdom, they were in disbelief. Yet they also had the power to do something about it. On their return home, they brainstormed ways they could offer their help to address the unique health-care needs of patients living in the West Bank.

“We wanted to help in any way we could, however small”, Magdalena recalled. “One of the few things we felt we could do was to aim to improve patient outcome in smaller hospitals across the West Bank and Gaza by providing a course already seen as essential in the UK for surgeons-in-training.”

A phone call to UNRWA launched their idea

With no contacts in the occupied Palestinian territory, they made a phone call to Dr. Umaiyeh Khammash, the chief of UNRWA’s health programme for the West Bank. Their idea was simple, but life-changing: to deliver a course in basic surgical skills at the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, building the capacity of Palestinian doctors to perform specialist care on the West Bank side of the Barrier.

“Having a safe standard of basic surgical skills is essential for all surgical trainees worldwide”, Robin explained. “It was apparent to us, however, that there was a particular urgency to address this in the West Bank.”

In September 2010, the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh endorsed the course, and over the past two years senior surgeons from the UK have volunteered their time to teach the course in the West Bank.

Training surgeons from across the occupied Palestinian territory

The most recent course took place in June this year, and welcomed 20 new surgical trainees from East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank, and – for the first time – the Gaza Strip.

Magdalena was impressed by the tenacity of the surgeons-in-training despite the challenges they have to overcome. “These are talented young surgeons, avid to develop their own surgical skills, in the face of restrictions on movement, a lack of materials, and a lack of normalcy in life that would stun their peers in the UK. Yet it is these young surgeons who are an essential part of the promise for a better future.”

Robin agrees: “The road to the future may need bridges like this one, which UNRWA has built so successfully. We simply feel truly honoured and thrilled to be part of it.”

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