Why Libya Needs Future Doctors Like Me

A 25-year-old aid worker and medical student from Tripoli talks about the Arab Spring, civil wars and fighting COVID-19

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by science, especially biology. By the time I started high school in 2010, I knew I wanted to become a doctor. At first, my decision to pursue medicine seemed like a smart idea; I thought that the health system in Libya would improve and provide new and lasting opportunities. However, since the Arab Spring in early 2011, our healthcare system has only gotten worse.

Growing Up During War

In 2011, forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and several groups seeking to oust his government fought in the First Libyan Civil War. Missiles were falling from the sky every day, and many Libyan families fled to safety abroad. My family fled to Tunis, where we stayed for six months until the end of 2011 when Gaddafi’s government fell. When we returned, I finished high school in 2014 and applied to the University of Tripoli, hoping to finish in 2019. However, instability in Libya continued, leading to the Second Libyan Civil War. Schools across the country closed until the conflict subsided.

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe. Though some of my classes continued online, clinical training was postponed. A year later, when clinical teaching resumed, there wasn’t a well-constructed plan for effective teaching or protection of students. In addition, COVID-19 restrictions meant that student contact with admitted patients was limited. Due to multiple delays and lack of training, very few doctors graduate with the skills necessary to fight the pandemic.

Dr. Sanad Attia and Khaled Hassan, a nurse, review files at Al-Medina Al-Kadima primary healthcare center (PHCC) in Tripoli.
Dr. Sanad Attia and Khaled Hassan, a nurse, review files at Al-Medina Al-Kadima primary healthcare center (PHCC) in Tripoli.

Now, in 2021, our health system is in a critical state, suffering from poor infrastructure and chronic underfunding. We lack statistical data for monitoring and evaluation. Faced with limited resources for emergency medicine or more complicated cases, most medical graduates either leave the country or work in the private sector—some not even in the medical field.

Though access to primary healthcare has slightly improved in recent years, those with severe or chronic conditions usually need to seek medical care outside the country. This isn’t because of incompetence; there are simply no resources to aid those in need. Another concern involves emergency medicine—we lack the resources to deal with urgent cases, which is an urgent problem given that Libya is often in a state of armed conflict.

Studying Medicine in Libya

Choosing medicine as my career in Libya hasn’t been easy. Many people have advised me to choose something with better prospects. After five years of studying medicine, I understand their concerns. Our public education system faces several challenges, including a lack of practical training and a well-functioning admissions system. Despite all these obstacles, I’m proud to say that I’m a medical student in Libya because this is what my country needs. We need people to stay and invest in Libya’s future.

If you believe in yourself, you can create change during the most challenging circumstances. You can succeed, no matter what. After I graduate, I would like to change the teaching system in our university to focus on training empathic doctors with significant clinical experience, familiar with treating diverse patients from different cultures. The curriculum would focus on making problem-based learning (PBL) the primary method of education in the medical field. With PBL, students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem.

International Medical Corps staff members distribute PPE at Tripoli Central Hospital.
International Medical Corps staff members distribute PPE at Tripoli Central Hospital.

My goal is for Libya to have a functioning public health system that Libyans can be proud of. To get there, we have to improve our education system and inspire future health workers to continue their studies and stay in the medical field.

In my current role as a communications officer at International Medical Corps, I’ve learned about humanitarian aid. After I graduate, I plan to support these efforts as a trained physician. As rewarding as that work will be, I hope that one day, Libya’s health system and its people won’t need the support of aid organizations—instead, our country will be stable, prosperous and free from conflict. In the meantime, I will continue my work, studies and advocacy to help build a better health system.

Help us save lives.