Kharkiv medical students begin training at hospitals around Cambridge

Kharkiv medical students begin training at hospitals around Cambridge

Twenty Ukrainian medical students from Kharkiv, whose training was interrupted by Russia’s full-scale invasion, are beginning clinical placements at hospitals around Cambridge next week to learn vital skills to help support their country’s health service.

The relevant statement was made by the University of Cambridge, an Ukrinform correspondent reports.

Ukrainian students will continue their practical studies and receive essential teaching at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, and at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Royal Papworth Hospital and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

The placements were arranged through a twinning partnership between the University of Cambridge and Kharkiv National Medical University, where the students are studying.

“The seven-week, fully-funded programme will enhance the training the students have already received despite the conflict, help them progress in their further studies with Kharkiv National Medical University, and support Ukraine’s vital health service,” the report states.

The University of Cambridge is co-ordinating the overall programme and clinical training will be delivered by the hospitals involved.

“Colleagues have worked incredibly hard to get this programme up and running in a short space of time. This is action-orientated; it’s about packing as much as possible into seven weeks, everything essential that will allow Kharkiv National Medical University to progress students which otherwise, because of the circumstances, it just couldn’t,” Paul Wilkinson, Clinical Dean at the School of Clinical Medicine, said.

The students on the programme, most of whom have been displaced by the conflict, are in their final two years of medical training. Because of the war, and before that the COVID-19 pandemic, most of their learning over the past two-and-a-half years has been online and they have missed out on essential practical teaching. Following the placements, the students will receive a learning portfolio to support their continuing medical training with Kharkiv National Medical University.

One of the students, Serhii Alkhimov, 21, spent four months living in an underground train station in Kharkiv with around a thousand others. He treated many ill people on his own, and was awarded a medal for his services by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

 “I had military medical experience, so it wasn’t as hard for me as it might have been, but I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Most of the people I treated had chronic illnesses and couldn’t get help anywhere else. I was glad to help, and save two or three lives,” Alkhimov told.

Vira Lavryk, 22, fled Kharkiv after it was attacked at the start of the conflict, travelling back to her hometown in the south of Ukraine, before later travelling to Portugal for a hospital placement.

“Kharkiv was attacked on the first day of the invasion, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening – hour after hour. My mum told me to come home, which was safe for a while, but then my hometown was invaded and occupied by Russia. I was so scared and it left a mark on me that I will never forget,” Lavryk told, adding that it is her ambition to specialise in medicine and become a surgeon, and coming to Cambridge even for a short-term placement is a dream for her.

Student Zaur Badalov, 22, helped to treat injured soldiers and civilians in Ukraine after the invasion.

“I was staying at a hospital in Kharkiv on the day the invasion happened; I was the first one to notice the windows shaking and woke the others. We were all in shock, and then that morning we had injured people coming into the hospital needing help,” Badalov remembered.

After a few weeks, Badalov moved with his family to the west of Ukraine, where he was able to continue his studies online while helping treat injured people arriving at local hospitals from the east.

“I learned a lot helping with the cases, and seeing how the doctors treated people. Now I have a big opportunity to learn new methods of treatment in Cambridge – medicine in the UK is world class – and take this knowledge and these skills back to Ukraine and pass it on to others,” Badalov noted.

Daria Shliakhova, Students’ Mobility Coordinator at Kharkiv National Medical University, said the situation in Ukraine was intense, and the country was in need of more good doctors with good practical skills, “who can help our people and save their lives”.

“It’s a priority to prepare and give our students all the best we can, and so the clinical placements in Cambridge are very important. […] Many of our hospitals and clinics have been damaged or destroyed by the war, and our people are doing everything possible to provide medical services. Doing our job now is quite challenging, still we are doing our best to provide our students with a high-quality educational process despite the lasting military actions. We would like to express our gratitude to Cambridge for supporting Kharkiv National Medical University and all Ukrainians,” Shliakhova said.

According to Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, this partnership between Kharkiv, Cambridge, and the hospitals delivering the training will provide vital practical teaching for students who have been confined to online learning for more than two years – first by the pandemic, and then by Russia’s invasion. In his words, it demonstrates the importance of international co-operation, and it shows Cambridge’s unwavering commitment to helping Ukraine’s higher education sector at this time of crisis.

Paula Dowdy, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Illumina for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, said: “We are proud to support this practical response from Cambridge University that recognises the importance of continuity of education and the opportunity it provides the Ukrainian medical students, but also for the hoped-for rebuilding of health services in Ukraine in the future.”

The medical placements are part of ‘Cambridge University Help for Ukraine’, a developing package of support announced by the University earlier this year.

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