Dr Soheil Sharpour

As a final year medical student, I believe physicians and surgeons should strive to improve healthcare in every part of the world. However, that can’t be done blindly. One should know the deficits that exist before taking any steps forward. As an Iranian Canadian, I decided to travel to Iran to undergo a clinical elective and understand the inequalities in the healthcare system there.

With the help of the Alumni Elective Grant I was able to take a clinical elective in Emergency Medicine at Tehran University of Medical Sciences. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, I was eager to travel to Iran to expand my clinical experience and learn first-hand how healthcare is delivered – and how it can be improved in a country like Iran.

Being located in the south of Tehran, the hospital attracted patients living in poverty and low socioeconomic standards. They lacked proper housing, transportation, security and food safety. This wasn’t just the case with the patient population; the hospital too was suffering from personnel, medical equipment and drug shortages. This was the result of years of medical sanctions against Iran compounded by the current pandemic. Nevertheless, the medical staff didn’t allow these limitations to impede the care they provided.

In my time there, I was extremely lucky to experience a variety of clinical situations. I had the opportunity to suture lacerations, place NG tubes and urinary catheters, apply splints, perform diagnostic and therapeutic paracentesis and dress minor wounds. Moreover, I learnt to work under extreme pressure with limited resources. For example, we were often buried in work when suddenly six multiple trauma patients showed up to the ED. I had to learn to attend the sickest patients but at the same time follow the previous patients as well. This enhanced my communication, organisational and teamwork skills.

Through this elective, I uncovered a key aspect of improving the healthcare system of Iran: the unjust sanctions placed against Iran is killing the ordinary people. This occurs indirectly as a result of a lack of access to the international market for medical equipment and medications. Moreover, the pandemic has exacerbated the insufficiencies even further. And although the country has advanced in domestic production for drugs and equipment, it’s still not enough to cover every sector of healthcare.

I believe that improving the healthcare of a country like Iran involves advocating for the relief of economic sanctions against the medical sector of Iran. Accomplishing a task like such wouldn’t be easy as a junior doctor; however, I shall strive to learn the skills required to do it.

I want to thank the RCSI Alumni for their contribution to the Clinical Elective Grant, allowing students like me enhance their learning and career development.