Guest Blog: Healthcare in Adversity: A Humanitarian Perspective

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Today on the MDS Outreach blog we have a post, from Leah Heredia, a medical student at the University of Birmingham and Vice President of Birmingham’s Friends of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

On Saturday 6th March, Birmingham’s Friends of MSF society hosted our annual conference, with this year’s theme being ‘Healthcare in Adversity: A Humanitarian Perspective’. With a range of guest speakers from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the conference ran via Zoom Webinar and was free to attend. Invitations were open to members of the public and students at the University, with special invites extended to sixth forms and colleges via MDS Outreach. We were so pleased to have 132 registered attendees (88 university students, 34 school students, and 10 externally-affiliated guests) listen to 7 fascinating speakers with a wide breadth of varied experience working with MSF.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is an international organisation that provides medical aid around the world. From war to famine and natural disasters, their independent and impartial stance makes them unique among humanitarian healthare organisations in allowing them to speak out against corruption and healthcare injustices. As Friends of MSF, we aim to help them in their endeavours through raising funds as well as awareness of their incredible work, inspiring interest in both medically and non-medically inclined audiences. Our calendar highlight for doing so is our annual conference event, with themes reflecting topical issues in global health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly been a topical issue to say the least, and presented us with several organisational challenges with regards to planning the conference. Despite initial disappointment at not being able to hold this in-person, we recognised the huge potential afforded to us by the technology available in expanding our reach, and began planning in early January. No longer limited by geography, we were thrilled to be able to open the conference up to sixth form and college students, particularly those from widening participation backgrounds who may not have been able to attend otherwise. The conference also reached internationally, with guests joining from Romania, Italy, South Africa, and Turkey!

Alongside this was the opportunity to host guest speakers from across the UK; our speaker line-up consisted of 6 medical and non-medical professionals alike, one who even joined us from the Netherlands! With our student audience in mind, we were keen to give them exposure to MSF’s diversity through a range of speakers with varied backgrounds in surgery, general practice, paediatrics, psychiatry, and human resources.

The conference ran from 9:50am to 3:10pm, consisting of traditional lectures, interactive Q&A sessions, and student-led discussions with speakers, as well as allocated time for questions after each one. Talks centred around clinicians’ experiences working abroad with MSF in countries disrupted by crises such as civil war and unrest, and the overwhelming importance of humanitarian healthcare in today’s world. We were also able to hear advice on working for MSF in the future, how to build up important skills and find volunteering experience as students, information on the internal workings of MSF, and psychiatric support available to their field workers that really inspired our audience. A full conference itinerary with speaker profiles is available below.

Overall, the conference was a huge success and we are so proud of the way the event ran! Thanks to vigorous social media promotion around the time of the event, our Facebook page now receives over 1000 views weekly, enabling us to raise further awareness of what MSF does and how to support them. We encouraged donations to the organisation throughout the event as well. Feedback collated afterwards was overwhelmingly positive and has prompted us to continue furthering our reach as a society in encouraging interested younger audiences to pursue medicine and global health. I have included some feedback excerpts from sixth form and college attendees on their favourite part of the conference below 🙂

“Overall it was amazing, but I have to say the personal experiences and the range of backgrounds that the different speakers came from was truly inspiring”

“Hearing the stories, that I never would have been exposed to if not joined today”

“Honestly, the entire conference was an especially interesting topic for me personally, as the thought of going abroad and essentially providing aid in possibly war-ridden environments, and experiencing the dangers of working there particularly interests me. My favourite aspect was learning about the realities of people who have these careers, especially surgery, and how, as a surgeon, you’ll have to operate however you can, the best you can, in order to save someone’s life, regardless of the technology and materials you have to save them, and exhibits the need for a good problem solving ability”

I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who attended, all our fantastic speakers, and the MDS Outreach team for all their help in reaching out to schools during the planning phase and helping us provide underrepresented students with exposure to a brilliant cause as well as careers in global health. Also, a final thanks to the amazing committee behind the event for working so hard in the build up and on the day to make the event our best conference yet!

by Leah Heredia

For more information about Birmingham Friends of MSF and to stay tuned for future events…
Instagram: @bhamfomsf
Twitter: @msf_uob

For more information about MSF:

MDS Outreach can be found using the following links:
Twitter: @UoB_MDSOutreach
Instagram: @uob_mdsoutreach

Author: Clare Ray

Clare Ray is the College of Medical and Dental Sciences lead for Outreach and Widening Participation.