Young Syrian doctors fresh out of medical school and serving their residencies in hospitals have been on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, putting their own lives at risk.
Damascus became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic over the summer with patients waiting in public hospital corridors and lined up at hospital gates hoping to get treatment.
Officially, Damascus has only recorded 1,552 Covid-19 cases since March, but doctors estimate informally that hundreds of thousands of the city’s inhabitants have been infected.
Halting the usual rotation of hospital residents among medical specialties and some public health and treatment programs the students themselves started probably saved thousands of lives in the Syrian capital during the peak of Covid-19 cases in July and August.
“At the beginning, the biggest fear among doctors was infecting their families at home,” said Raghad Ibrahim, an internal medicine resident at Damascus University. But due to close contact with a huge number of Covid-19 patients, most residents themselves got infected, three resident doctors said in interviews. “We would ask each other; ‘Have you caught the virus yet?’” Ibrahim said. She believes she infected her whole family.
Medical residencies at university hospitals in Syria usually takes between four and five years depending on the medical specialty. Students rotate through different medical services to learn on the job about the various aspects of their occupation, including diagnoses, treatments, surgery and intensive care.
Changes in Shifts
The structure of the young doctors’ shifts was changed to give doctors a few days quarantining at home before resuming work, said Haitham Zamzam, the head of internal medicine residents at Al Mouwasat University Hospital in Damascus, and a resident himself. The monthly rotation of residents was paused to restrict spreading the virus among stations, and non-urgent medical procedures, known as “cold operations,” were also halted to cut risks to patients and dedicate staff time to the emergency room and intensive care patients.
“It was an effective approach,” Zamzam said.
At each station, medical tasks and responsibilities are shared among residents depending how much experience they have. Junior residents take care of patients’ diagnoses and treatment under the supervision of more senior classmates. Professors and heads of stations are responsible for assuring a seamless workflow and to answer students’ questions on more complicated cases.