PARIS: Saudi doctors helping to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in French hospitals have lifted the lid on life under lockdown in France.
The medics have been taking part in internship and specialization programs, living in France with their families on Saudi government-backed scholarships which pay for their training.
There are 50 Saudi doctors currently in France as part of the program and three of them spoke to Arab News about their experiences amid the virus pandemic in the country where to date there has been 44,550 recorded cases of infection resulting in 3,024 deaths.
Dr. Abdu Al-Khayri, a neurosurgeon from Qunfudah, is currently on the staff of the Rothschild Hospital. The 31-year-old speaks fluent French after spending a year learning the language prior to starting his medical studies.
“Regardless of our specialties, we are all facing the coronavirus crisis just as French doctors and our other colleagues are. We are proud to be on the team facing this crisis. I salute the ER doctors, the specialists in infectious diseases, and anesthesiologists who are all at the forefront, as well as the entire medical staff for their courage, their efforts, and the risks they take.
“As a neurosurgeon I work every day. If a patient arrives and needs urgent care, we intervene according to the procedures established by the French Ministry of Health to deal with the virus. Operations that are not urgent are called off at the moment.”
Dr. Qusay Mandoora, a 32-year-old Saudi urologist at Pitie Salpetriere hospital, told Arab News: “During the coronavirus outbreak, we offer our services to all doctors or personnel who ask for them, even if it is not in our field of expertise.
“We follow the official protocols and take the necessary safety measures. We also try to cut down on our trips to the hospital in order to avoid exposure to, and possible spread of, COVID-19.”
Dr. Ola Binhimd, from Jeddah, arrived in France in January 2015. She is in her final year as a plastic surgeon and reconstruction resident at the Necker Pediatric Hospital in Paris and was due to finish her internship there at the end of April, but it has been extended to the end of May due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I currently work in a pediatric hospital, so cases of COVID-19 are less frequent here, though seven children suffering from the virus were recently admitted.
“The hospital made a number of changes in order to deal with this crisis. Before these cases were admitted, two operating rooms were ready every day and they were used to perform operations that were not urgent. Both of them have now been re-purposed and are not used except for emergency operations.
“Anesthesiologists now check on patients and see if any of them have a fever. Visits to the hospital are prohibited and the child’s parents are the only ones allowed in his or her room,” she added.
Meanwhile, Al-Khayri began studying neurosurgery in Riyadh at King Faisal Hospital and was then accepted in France to study for a diploma in his specialist area.
“I arrived in France in 2013 and studied French for a year. I then did a five-year training course for all specialties in different French hospitals, before obtaining my medical degree in 2019.
“I spent a year in the Kremlin Bicêtre hospital, 12 months at Pitie Salpetriere, and one year at Mondor. I finished the required studies and am now a resident surgeon with the title of fellow or neurosurgery specialist at the Rothschild Foundation Hospital.
“I came here as part of an exchange program between Saudi Arabia and France. In the program 50 Saudi doctors study their specializations in France. In neurosurgery, there are only one or two positions open for Saudi surgeons every year.”
Al-Khayri is grateful that King Salman, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and the Ministry of Health have allowed him to work on his specialization in France. He is also very thankful for what the Saudi government does for students in Saudi Arabia and abroad.
Mandoora said: “I did all my medical courses in Saudi Arabia in English and then took a one-year French course at the Alliance Francaise in Paris. Then I was able to begin my medical and surgical specialization which is in treating kidneys and related problems.
“Our government, which financed our studies, also allowed our families to join us in France. I was a resident for five years in addition to a year of training. Saudi residents in France relocate to a different hospital every six months.”
He highly rated the French medical system and said his experiences working in France had been crucial to the development of his career. “The more patients we treat, the more we learn.” He added that the French system of treating people in public and semi-private hospitals, had allowed him to benefit from dealing with a wide range of medical conditions.
On his personal life, he said: “I am currently in my seventh year of study, so we definitely have friends here by now. My wife is studying marketing at INSEEC University in Paris, and we have a son. I feel completely integrated with the team of residents at the French hospital.”
Once he graduates, Mandoora plans to return home and work in Saudi Arabia.
Binhimd, who studied medicine in Jordan and Egypt and graduated from Egypt, said: “I did an externship at Hotel Dieu in Beirut and then returned to Saudi Arabia where I worked for the government in the Ministry of Defense.
“I also worked at the King Fahd Armed Forces Hospital in Jeddah for two years and received a scholarship from the hospital. I have now completed my internship in plastic surgery and reconstruction after six months of French lessons.”
She added: “I am currently working in the field of plastic surgery for children. That includes working with those born with deformities and with those who have accidents such as dog bites. These accidents are common nowadays because children are confined to their homes.
“This is my 10th semester as a resident. I have one semester left at St. Louis Hospital in Paris and in November 2020, I will move to the Gustave Roussy Institute.”