Kharkiv medical students arrive for vital training

Kharkiv students at the Cambridge University's School of Clinical Medicine

Twenty Ukrainian medical students, whose training was thrown into turmoil by the Russian invasion, are next week beginning clinical placements at hospitals around Cambridge, to learn vital skills to help support their country's health service.

The students from Kharkiv - which was attacked on the first day of the conflict and has seen fierce fighting - 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 have been arranged through a twinning partnership between the University of Cambridge and Kharkiv National Medical University, where the students are studying.

During their time in Cambridge, they will learn from experts in a number of surgical and medical specialties, and receive mentoring, supervision and bedside teaching from doctors. 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 University of Cambridge is co-ordinating the overall programme and clinical training will be delivered by the hospitals involved. There will be no cost to students, with travel and living expenses funded by a donation from biotechnology company Illumina, and accommodation funded by an anonymous donor. Homerton College, where the students will stay, will provide opportunities to socialise and space to relax outside of their placements.

'Ukrainian medical schools don’t want to lose students and doctors who will be essential to rebuilding after the conflict.'

Paul Wilkinson, Clinical Dean

Kharkiv at the University of Cambridge's School of Clinical Medicine

Paul Wilkinson, Clinical Dean at the School of Clinical Medicine, said: “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.

"Ukrainian medical schools don’t want to lose students and doctors who will be essential to rebuilding health services in the country after the conflict.”

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, who as a Ukrainian man needed special permission to leave the country to take part in the programme, 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 Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.

He said: “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.”

Another, 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. She said: “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.

“It is my ambition to specialise in medicine and become a surgeon. Cambridge is a higher level of education, so coming here even for a short-term placement is a dream for me.”

'I have a big opportunity to learn new methods of treatment in Cambridge and take this knowledge back to Ukraine.'

Zaur Badalov, student

From left - Vira Lavryk, Kateryna Ausheva, Zaur Badalov, Serhii Alkhimov (Credit: University of Cambridge)

From left: Vira Lavryk, Kateryna Ausheva, Zaur Badalov, Serhii Alkhimov (Credit: University of Cambridge)

From left: Vira Lavryk, Kateryna Ausheva, Zaur Badalov, Serhii Alkhimov (Credit: University of Cambridge)

Student Zaur Badalov, 22, helped to treat injured soldiers and civilians in Ukraine after the invasion. He said: “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.”

After a few weeks, Zaur, who grew up in Kharkiv, 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.”

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," she said, "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”.

Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “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. 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.

Kharkiv Medical students at the University of Cambridge's School of Clinical Medicine

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