The first JOIN Medical Student Exchange in Jerusalem and Germany

Jerusalem, 29. September 2017

Ahmed Al-Jabir is a student of clinical medicine at King’s College in London, where he started his 4th year term this year. He has been active with St John Ambulance as a volunteer already for 7 years and he now acts as one of the committee responsible for his medical school branch of SJA. He is a pioneer participant of JOIN Medical Students Exchange Programme. In August 2017, Ahmed spent 2 weeks with St John Eye Hospital team in Jerusalem as a visiting practicing student. Then he did a practical training in Johanniter Hospital in Stendal in Germany in September 2017. Below you can read Ahmed’s testimony about his stay in Jerusalem, in his own words. The story about his experience from the Johanniter Hospital in Stendal will follow next month. 

All pictures by Ahmed Al-Jabir

In the Summer of 2017, I was given the opportunity to visit the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem as part of the Johanniter International Medical Student Exchange to foster exchange between countries. Having been in St John Ambulance England for 7 years now, I was always aware of the Order of St John as a large global organisation but was very grateful for the opportunity to explore and experience it for myself. 

I heard about this opportunity and was keen to apply and then I got the fateful email from Lenka in the Brussels office saying I was accepted! Many reams of paperwork later, I was on a plane to the Holy Land – the country made sacred by the three major religions of the World and the very origins of Order of St John. 

Coming in to land in Tel Aviv airport, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the country which only improved when I was picked up by the hospital driver and driven across the country to my ultimate destination – Jerusalem! 

The first thing that struck me about the St John Eye Hospital was its stunning grounds. It's a beautiful building, built in the Crusader Style with meticulous landscaping in its gardens making it the opposite of what you think of when you think of the word 'hospital'. I was shown to the accommodation that had been so kindly arranged and was sharing with Dr Muath, one of the Residents in the hospital.

Bright and early the next day, I was introduced to the hospital by the omniscient Medical Secretary, Maureen – nothing happens in this hospital without her knowing! She took me on a tour and all the staff were delighted to have a medical student from London come, especially a fellow member of St John!

This begun a whirlwind two weeks of clinical placements and clinics where I learnt about the amazing work that happens in the hospital and learnt a lot about ophthalmology. I saw many rare conditions which are not commonly seen in the West such as Duane syndrome, morning glory disc anomaly and traumatic retinal detachments.

The highlight of the trip however was surely the Mobile Outreach Programme. This is a programme to get out into small villages in the West Bank where it is difficult for patients to get past the layers of security and restrictions imposed by the Authorities to access the hospital in Jerusalem. Instead, the hospital comes to them!I visited Al-Jib just outside Ramallah and Qalqiliya near Nablus. This was a fantastic way to explore the country and its varied landscapes and rolling countryside as well as to meet its people with the entire village coming out, eager to get their eyes screened. We picked up a lot of myopia and early cataracts as well as some more serious problems. One memorable patient was a 14 year old child who was injured whilst playing and had two large traumatic holes in his retina and had to be urgently referred for major surgery in our Jerusalem hospital.

Additionally, I got the opportunity to visit the Muristan clinic in the Old City of Jerusalem, a stones throw away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a new clinic, recently set up by the St John Eye Hospital Group in the location of the very first hospital set up by Brother Gerard in 1023 to tend to pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. This link to the ancient Knights Hospitallers is maintained to this day, treating tourists and pilgrims who have come from far and wide to make their devotions and required medical assistance as well as the traders and city-dwellers who make the world-famous markets of Jerusalem the bustling city it has always been. 

This brings me nicely onto the non-medical side of my trip! Having never visited Palestine, it offers so many opportunities to students of history, religion and of life itself. Every square inch of this land has thousands of years of history to tell and has fascinating stories. I got the opportunity to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing/Western Wall as well as the Biblical and ancient cities of Hebron and Bethlehem. It is a fascinating land and truly, 2 weeks is not enough time to take full advantage of everything it has to offer.

I want to thank the Order of St John, Johanniter International and the teams in London, Belgium and Jerusalem for organising this wonderful educational trip to see the great work that is going on in the hospital – treating all patients regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. It is due to St John Ambulance that I decided to study medicine and it is thanks to them that I have become even more enthused to study it further and to foster relationships with doctors and medical staff across the worldI would highly encourage everyone to make this trip and explore different cultures and approaches to medicine as well as to further appreciate the fantastic opportunities offered by Johanniter International and the wider Order of St John. 

JOIN Medical Students Exchange was introduced with the goal to foster a spirit of cooperation among the broad spectrum of JOIN members organisations. It offers the opportunity for medical students who are affiliated to one of JOIN member organisations to take a few weeks practical training in one of the hospital of another JOIN member. We are convinced that supporting young and motivated people in reaching their personal and professional endeavors is an investment towards stronger cooperation among all charities sharing the heritage of St John. You can find more information about the programme at our website www.johanniter.org