“The most important thing is human life, and we must save as many as possible"
A story of a dedicated Ukrainian pediatrician supporting Olomouc University Hospital.
Tamara was born in Dnipro, a city in the east of Ukraine, and has lived there her entire life. She has always dreamt about becoming a pediatrician specialized in cardiovascular diseases and her dream came true when she graduated from Dnipro State Medical University. Right after graduating, Tamara started working at the University´s department of infectious diseases – she was specifically interested and very committed in pediatric cardiology. She continued to study and specialized in heart monitoring and analyses. In the past two years, she also took on the responsibilities of a vice-dean at the International English-speaking department.
As Tamara says, she loved her job and was committed to stay in Dnipro even after the war in Ukraine broke out and her and her family’s lives were in danger.
“I wanted to stay in Ukraine and keep working there, continue to teach my students. For the first few months, we hid in shelters with my family during the shelling, but the last drop was when a missile hit the roof of our house. Luckily, we weren´t hurt, but I was really scared for my 9-year-old son. My father and husband insisted that I take him and leave Ukraine, go to a safe place, for our boy.”
Tamara is just one of seven million people that were forced to leave Ukraine and search for safety in neighboring countries, among them doctors, pediatricians, nurses and other health specialists. Upon arrival in the Czech Republic, she searched for a way to practice her skills, support her family and feel useful, contribute by joining the medical workforce of the Czech Republic and help refugees and Czechs alike.
“The feeling that you are useless is the hardest thing psychologically, the feeling of being in a foreign country and not being able to help anyone, it is so important to have the opportunity to help,” she commented on her dedication. To be able to continue working in the medical field, she decided to apply for a teaching position at Olomouc University Hospital.
“It was my friend, a colleague from Dnipro State University who recommended applying to Olomouc Hospital. She found the opportunity to join the hospital in quite an unusual way, through Instagram. I had an interview with the head of the pediatric clinic, an English language interview. They were very accommodating and since I didn’t speak Czech, they first offered me work with English speaking medical students. In the end, I joined the surgery department of the pediatric clinic instead,” Tamara spoke about the friendly and inclusive approach of Olomouc hospital.
To practice medicine in the Czech Republic, doctors need to pass an approbation exam that includes a written test, professional experience and an oral exam. Doctors, nurses and other medical specialists coming from foreign countries who are skilled in their field also need to get better acquainted with Czech medical system and learn the local language.
One of the ways to help Ukrainian medical personnel to join the Czech workforce are Czech language courses and trainings which provide an overview of the Czech medical systems. The courses are organized by the Institute for Postgraduate Medical Education (IPVZ) in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF.
Medical professionals enrolled in the course can already be recruited to work as assistants in the “UA Assistance Points”, hospital outpatient facilities for refugees and others in need of healthcare. This gives Ukrainian doctors an opportunity to provide access to healthcare to fellow refugees and others, while preparing for the exam. This is exactly what Tamara now does at the Olomouc University Hospital, where UA Assistance Point was launched by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF in October.
Under usual circumstances the process of getting a license as a doctor in the Czech Republic can take several years, but through the project, doctors from Ukraine can now get their license much faster.
“At this moment, until I get my attestation, I cannot be treating children directly. I am examining patients, adding information to electronic system, working on reports, making sure all the details are clear and doctors have all the information in order to be able to help all the patients,” Tamara explains.
“I started studying Czech in July, but only online, so it wasn’t that effective. Then I found information about IPVZ and these courses the Ministry of Health and UNICEF were sponsoring, again through a social media chat, and joined the course in August. It was very intense and helpful, lot of studying, I was the only person who didn’t know any Czech at all, so it was really challenging. But step by step (“Krok za krokem”, as Tamara said, switching from English to show her Czech language skills) over the weekends, I learned.”
The support for Ukrainian medical personnel is crucial to empower Ukrainian health workers to help children and families who also had to flee Ukraine, ease the pressure on local medical staff and give them the opportunity to contribute their skills to the local system. UNICEF is supporting IPVZ to enroll more doctors into the course, including covering the course fee, reducing the standard admission fee by 90%. Thanks to this partnership, more than 300 doctors are already enrolled in the courses and the aim is to reach around 1000 doctors and nurses across the country.
“The training programme was excellent, the first part was the study of Czech language, the second part was focused on professional medical terms and information about the Czech healthcare system. All the students were very motivated, so the teachers gave us plenty of materials. Now we need to study all of this to pass the approbation exam. I am thankful for the course and grateful to my teacher,” Tamara added.
What about looking to the future? Despite planning to stay only for two months, Tamara and her son have now been in Olomouc for six months, not sure when they will be able to return.
“My husband is still in Ukraine, we have been together for almost 12 years, never apart for more than two days. But as a parent, as for every mother, my child is the most important, and my first concern will always be his safety. Until the war stops, it's not safe for me to go back. For now, I will keep supporting my family, working and studying at the hospital.”
Tamara concluded by encouraging others to never give up. “The war showed us what is most important: it’s life, our parents, our friends. We can build houses, but the most important thing is human life, and we must save as many as possible. I don’t believe my story is that special, there are so many people facing the same difficulties. I would like to tell them to just take a deep breath and start doing something small, face your problems step by step. The situation is hard, I can feel my tears every day, but it’s so important to never give up, just remember you are strong, and you can always do so much.”