Omar Hamza submitted 2020-05-18

It is nearly impossible to truly prepare for life-saving or emergency situations. Rather, the experience is incredibly important. My experiences in refugee camps showed me what a true lack of healthcare looks like and how important it is for physicians to travel to underserved areas. I’d like to dive into what brought my attention to medicine initially, situations in emergencies where doctors saved my community from going under, and ultimately how important medicine is for me.

Screams of agony, children with missing limbs, and people fighting to reach the front of the line were the first images to reach my eyes as I stepped foot into this run-down clinic for refugees in Amman, Jordan. This was initially very scary but the doctors I was with alleviated my apprehension as they confidently walked in. I was with a team composed of 10 students and 60 doctors. Mothers grabbed at me begging for their children to be seen and knowing only that American doctors were here. This was problematic, especially in the case of the blind man who came to see the Ophthalmologist I was translating for one day. Since I was the only person able to translate Arabic to English, Hamada, the patient, told me his story. Hamada, 22 years old, had lost his vision a year ago from shrapnel after a bomb struck close to him. I tried to emulate the calm and composed behavior I had seen in many doctors before as I listened to his horrifying story. Hamada came in with so much hope and faith that the doctor would be able to help him. After I translated everything, the doctor told me he knew exactly what to do but would be unable to help due to the lack of medical equipment in the clinic. Hamada’s facial expressions and tone of voice expressed how defeated he was, yet he thanked us sincerely from his heart for our time. This was not the end for Hamada, however. The doctor decided at that moment to return to this camp after a few months with the proper medical equipment and a team to perform the surgery necessary to help Hamada and a few others who needed similar procedures. It would be futile to attempt to explain the gratitude Hamada gave us, but it is embedded in my mind. In general, most of the cases I saw were basic conditions requiring cheap medications, but this same cheap medication meant the world to these patients. I felt incredibly enticed as I watched these physicians try and diagnose an influx of sickly patients with complex symptoms within of a few hours. I yearn to have the knowledge to help them. I recall feeling incredible after occasionally making connections between different illnesses, their symptoms, and the different biochemical concepts underlying them that I had studied in my classes. It was this trip to the refugee camps that implanted a vision in me that has consumed me for the past few years. This vision drives me each day as I dream of myself helping these refugees just like the selfless doctors are doing each summer.

The gratitude patients express and the willingness to give from physicians remind me how rewarding medicine can be. The organization I am with, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is based on mainly American doctors and other international doctors who volunteer each summer to provide healthcare in crisis areas. SAMS also helped with Hurricane Harvey in my hometown. Families including mine were trapped in our houses or forced to evacuate as floodwaters destroyed everything. I will never forget the effort by SAMS as doctors flew in from across the U.S. to assist families in my area. The same organization I worked with each summer was able to help my community when disaster struck. When thanked, the doctors brushed it off. So little to them meant so much to us. This is why I want to become a practicing physician. The MD that I work for now has the possibility to help save countless lives.

For the past three years, I have fallen in love with medicine. I’ve shadowed and volunteered with many doctors and ask them all the same question: “If you could go back, would you still stay in medicine?” Without fail, every single one of them says yes. While they agree that it is immensely difficult at times, they also agree that the gratitude and love they receive is worth more than any struggle they’ve had. My time volunteering in the refugee camps, my experience with Hurricane Harvey, as president of various organizations, or at the hospitals have all taught me many things, but there seems to be one recurring life lesson. Time is priceless, and I wish nothing more than to be able to extend and improve the quality of someone’s time here.