Saturday, 21 July 2007

From the Diary of an Iraqi doctor

It is the dream of every middle class Iraqi family to see her son or daughter becoming a doctor, and my family was not an exception. My mother always wished her son to be a doctor one day, not an engineer or a lawyer. I still remember my uncle’s advice “If you become an engineer, prepare yourself to be a taxi driver afterwards”. But what about me? What did I want to be in the future at that time in late 80s? The answer was simply: I do not know. I suddenly found myself achieving high marks in the “Backaloria Exam, which is the equivalent of GCSE in England” that enabled me to register with any college I like. To fulfil my mother’s dream, I decidedly joined the Medical College and finished my studies successfully. However, these years were not easy ones. Everything was changing around me and the socio-political atmosphere was very tense. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the UN sanctions, the defeat of the Iraqi army and its withdrawal from Kuwait, the uprising in the South and North of Iraq which was brutally smashed few weeks later and finally the beginning of the biggest wave of Iraqi exodus. Doctors were always among the first professionals who fled the country in hundreds and may be thousands. As the years went by I’ve realised that I will not be a good doctor. I occasionally attended lectures and clinical sessions and most of my time was divided between playing basketball and chatting with my friends. It was simply a natural continuation to my high school days. I hated wearing suits and ties. Instead, I always wore Jeans trousers, T-Shirts and trainers. I did not go to the graduation ceremony and believe it or not I did not take the Hippocratic Oath traditionally taken by doctors pertaining to practice Medicine all over the world. The post graduation medical training in Iraq was very much disappointing compared to our expectations when we were students. At that time in mid 90s, there was a significant rise of anti-medical sentiments. And we doctors were responsible for curing people in almost completely collapsed medical services due to unfair sanctions. Moreover, we found ourselves, after 6 years of study, getting paid a monthly salary of $2.00 only. As a natural result, many left the profession and entered the world of Business and hundreds fled the country seeking better opportunities elsewhere. Jordan, Yemen, Libya and later on Oman and UAE became compulsory destinations for those who left Iraq because no other country was willing to issue visa to any Iraqi. These were the transit stations in the long exile journey to the West, and specifically UK, the ultimate destination for thousands of doctors from all over the world.
Once I arrived to UK, another “internal exile” journey has begun albeit differently. Here you realise that, apart from your primary medical qualifications, all your work experience was meaningless and unworthy and you have to start all over again doing re-qualification exams. I did that successfully, like hundreds of “fresh off the boat” doctors. However; all my efforts were smashed on a solid rock named “The Home Office”. As a failed asylum seeker for four bloody years I was not only prohibited from work, but also from the basic rights of receiving treatment and having a decent place to live in. simply we were unwanted and unwelcome in this country and I became legally known as “illegal immigrant” or “a failed asylum seeker waiting for deportation back to his home country”. And here you will find yourself driven to a new world and a new experience called “the black market”. I still remember my first illegal job here in the UK as an onion picker in a field of many big farms employing hundreds of illegal workers from all over the “hungry” world. And I always tell my friends that Britain should be proud of its “multicultural black market” exactly in the same way we hear repeatedly in the news about the British Society and how they are proud of their diversity. My first “illegal” wages were £9.00 for working from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I worked for two days only there and then I made a good progress in my second “black, hidden, underground” job. I worked as a labourer with an Iraqi Kurdish carpenter for £25.00 per day. It was a big achievement. I worked three weeks with him and later I moved to London where I worked as a carpet cleaner for one week only. I got £35.00 per day this time and I was climbing the “black market Economy” stairs slowly but steadily. finally came my last, but the longest job which was to some extent “professional” and I used all my English language and communication skills this time properly. It was a receptionist in a youth hostel. Approximately three years of my life were spent behind a reception desk. At that time I believed that I will not come back to the medical profession. It did not bother me very much as I was not keen about it from the beginning but the only thing that kept worrying me was how disappointing to my mother to see her “doctor” son working in cheap jobs rather than his “precious” profession. However; since then the situation has dramatically changed. Unexpectedly the Home Office changed its mind about my status and allowed me to stay legally in this country and I have to stand up to the challenge of building my shattered medical career once again. Twelve years after graduation and I have to start all over again and most likely I will find myself in a specialty other than the one I really want or practiced before and under the supervision of an English or Asian doctor few years younger than me. It was at this time, I have realised that I am not too young anymore. And to make things worse, my registration with the General Medical Council came one day after the news of the failed attempt of Bilal Abdullah, the Iraqi Doctor, who tried to detonate his packed-with-explosive car at Glasgow Airport. But most importantly shall I be able to cope with the restrictions, policies and demands of the medical authorities here. In the “good doctor guide” sent along with my GMC registration license, the words “you must” were mentioned nearly 75 times. And if eighteen years ago I did not know whether I would like to be a doctor or not, now the question that buzzes in my head “do I still have the energy, physically and mentally, to carry on with the profession? The answer is simply again: I don’t know.


A&Eiraqi said...

Shako Mako
I just couldn't understand it a bit, have you got the registration or you just passed the exams?

Of course you can work again as a doctor, you're a doctor, many others had such gaps in their lives but they went on very well.

Well, they didn't accept your assylum for a long time, you're not the only one in that also; it's their humanity.

Wish you all the best

Ramshakle1 said...

know exactly the state of crisis that psychological,mentally and emotionally eats up your energy simply trying to take (a serious and final) decision to come into the boxing ring of Re-establishing yourself as a doctor.My general (and over- the -years unchanged) point of view is that an average doctor who graduated after cirka 1992 is ,unfortunately,not a good doctor.Ofcourse there few exception (usually individuals with natural scientific gifts and unconditioned devotion to their medcial profession .Individuals who felt so at home when rounding on patients that they were practically unbothered of the Socio-poltical huuricanes and murderous sanctions you metioned).When I say NOT GOOD ,I have taken in consideration all the aspects and demands of an average educational process that would in result lead to (produce) an averagely good doctor .A good doctor in the traditional (yet still valid) sense of the word.You know what I mean.Those who graduated before 1991/1992 bascially have what it takes to make the break through and somehow master (more or less) the profession but on ONE CONDITION :That they would have succeeded in leaving Iraq around 1993/1994 and almost DIRECTLY took the other end of the line and CONTINUED working as doctors in relatively decent places (I´m talking Europe and USA).Places that would have provided the technical circumstances that enabled them to BUILD UPON what they already have and flourish as good doctors from that point on.
In your case (and in the case of many other Iraqi semi-young doctors I know of ) you were FORCED to be enstranged from your very very defining profession : a Doctor.A doctor can not be anything else than a doctor.The decision to make the final cut and uncount the years spent to obtain the Diploma is only successful and rewarding when many other surrouding practical details are encouraging.Examples: readily obtained residance permit+ a considerable amount of money spared to start up a common market project (restaurant,cafe,a shop,a trade office..etc)+ a NATURALLY acquired trading/marketing skills that would help you survive the jungle of the market (AL soog)+An understanding and supporting family that is ready to somehow (forgive) the (God-forbidden )decision of putting the old stethoscope off to sale + and at last a strike of luck that,in a relatively short time, would put some success at your hands when you have made the leap into the market.A financial success (money proffit) that helps you accept your (new identity) as a trade man.
As you can see this is all very hypothetical.And in your case you maybe lack some of the conditions/merits I just enumerated .The question remains the same: What to do then?
I agree with you about the age question (one simply becomes slower in the mind)+ medical knowledge is not one to be gathered by casual reading.It´s damn so demanding and enslaving.
I don´t have(golden wisdom) to offer you Sheko Mako but I feel that you have an unresolved psychological/mental/practical conflict with in you that you urgently need to deal with.
Take a psychological step backward (now that you are at least ensured about the residance question) to decide: Do I or Do I not want to get into the boxing ring ?
Basic question.
I have a word to say to you: If you decide to get into the fight then DO NOT put in mind that you will beat up your enemy and become THAT KIND OF A GOOD DOCTOR that your mother once dreamed you up to be.IT WON`T HAPPEN.It´s not logical that this will happen,mathmatically impossible.Remember you are a doctor graduated 1995.Wrong timeto graduate!.You can not change that.

Instead ,and that´s a bit golden, set a goal to yourself as a doctor :How many rounds I SHOULD be able to be standing on my feet infront of my enemy in the boxing ring (the english medical system).In other words :How bad a doctor I should NOT allow myself to be ?
Remember the film ROCKY 1 ,when he goes alone to the ring the night before the boxing day just to get a feel of the place and promise himself this : I´m not going to beat my enemy .But If he failed to beat me with a knock out then it´s a victory to me.
Think about Rocky Balboa.Be Inspired.
Good luck !

Have the day as it comes and keep your stethscope .A bit early to give away !


Iraqi Mojo said...

Stick with it, dictor!

Ramshakle1 said...

Well my fellow readeras of Sheko Mako....
I see that this particular post struck a certain nerve in you.One can not but appreciate your good intetions and your over-all good will to stand up and support sheko mako.I prefer to see this issue from the general(and for me standrad) angle of today´s Irag.I´m personally not very worried about Sheko Mako making the right choice when he has finally set his mind to do so.He is,I trust,intelligent enough to pull it off and be (GOOD) at what ever he wants to be .But let´s instead take the question he raised symbolically and not personally: ie) as an example of yet another Iraqi mind,good Iraqi talent,promising Iraqi human resource who is about to get wasted just because ,like any flower,it was picked it off it´s natural garden/ground which is Iraq the homeland.What I see in this post is yet another manifestation of decay (or about to decay)of an enriching element because Iraq has been taken away from it.Saddam forced sheko mako to leave Iraq,The recent government and the americans makes it unthinkable to return to Iraq,the Britts are making it hard to stay and perform as a doctor. And Sheko Mako is tired.He flew off long ago and he is only now trying to land safe on the ground. The man is tired.He needs some rest.Let him rest.But he should not be confused/enstranged.We should not let him drown into confusion.Let´s all work on this motif instead of telling sheko mako that other Iraqis succeeded in being good doctors in England despite difficult circumstances.The man already knows that.He is not stupid.Let´s instead leave some suggestions to help him make up his made about the next step (what ever it will be).I guess that´s what he´s after.
Thank you .


Sheko Mako said...

thank you all for your comments

a&e iraqi: yes i've got the registration.

3eeraqimedic: yes it is my personal experience.

ramshackle: thank you and I agree with what you said. w are symbols of DECAY. I always feel that we, those who were forced to leave Iraq, are now ruined from inside, and what is left in our exile journeys is hardly enough to dress our wounds. the bigger worry is that this process is contineous and we accept it as the only option left for Iraqis. Kids in Iraq now are talking about leaving Iraq jut for the sake of leaving. it is a mass paranoia from the level of DECAY that shattered the whole iraqi society. feelings of hopelessness and despair prevail.
and those who succeed in their exiles do not represent thousands trapped in the misery of the Western dream. Ali Al-Wardi said in is books "people usually remember Pharoah as the one wwho built the pyramids but forget thousands of slaves who carried the stones on their backs and perished for the sake of building these pyrmids". and this is exactly the case in the west. very few achieved remarkable success if compared the majority whcih struggling everyday.
thanks all

3eeraqimedic said...
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hala_s said...

Sheko Mako

You have to pursue your studies what are you talking about. I have a cousin who is a single mother of 3 and she started taking her exams when she was 44 years old. Now she is 50 and a successful G.P.

Whether you like the professsion or not do it. How many of us likes what they are doing??? very few. I hate my job but I do it for the money.

Take care

name said...
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Don Cox said...

It seems to me that Iraq is desperately short of doctors for even the most basic medical treatment. So you might think of getting all your qualifications and a bit of experience in the UK, then returning to help your country. On the other hand, from what you say, you don't really want to be a doctor at all. If so, again get all the qualifications, but move into one of the related careers that 3eeraqimedic mentioned. I would hate to be the patient of a man who doesn't want to be a doctor.

Sheko Mako said...

thank you all for your coments
Don Cox...
chosing our professions is not a matter of interest. your circumstances will dictate your choices. my father always said to me when I was moaning about studying Medicine " if you believe that everybody on this planet do what he likes for living, you will see millions of people jobless". to me, a perfect job is the one that you really likes and the one that ensures financial instability and secure a good decent life for you and your family not only at present but for years to come. how many of us got this apportunity? you might be surprised if you know that I am currently earning £1360 per month from my job as a trust grade doctor. whereas employees at Tesco or Asda have more or less the same salary. BUT they do not have the same responsibilities that I am having now. and this is the case for many foreign doctors from 3rd world countries who want to establish themselves in the "WEST".


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