Frontline Forces and Humanitarian Medicine

I recently had the good fortune of being able to attend an online conference held by the Friends of the David Nott Foundation society at my university. It was based on the topic of MDT on the Frontline and besides the event being hugely successful and inspiring, both in terms of content approached and the way it was run, I felt so moved by everything I heard and watched.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve alluded to my interest in humanitarian medicine a few times throughout the years. Most recently, I read War Doctor by David Nott over summer and shared some very brief thoughts on it in my post outlining what I read over summer.

I wanted to share some of my key takeaway points from the day about the things that really stuck out to me.


Teaching in Austere Environments

To have the chance to watch Dr David Nott talking live about the implications of teaching surgery for austere environments and the measures taken to go about resolving these issues left me so starstruck. Medical Education has always been a topic of interest for me, and the juxtaposition of teaching courses in the UK vs. in the very environments they were needed most was fascinating.

In their bid to find an appropriate mode of teaching surgical techniques in environments already lacking resources, they worked to create a model on which everyone could practice each of the surgical procedures. Of course, that came with its own issues of the expenses of making such a state-of-the-art model and transporting it around the world, but certainly made things easier for teaching and learning.

This resonated with me because the concept of teaching local surgeons extensive techniques to deal with the problems they see perpetuates a longer-term fix and really tackles some of the fundamental flaws that can come alongside humanitarian work in all fields.

The Power of Languages

Language fluency and humanitarian work go hand in hand with each other. Despite medical procedures and interventions being a universal experience, there can be no cohesion without understanding between people.

An important point that was brought up regarding the course offered by the David Nott Foundation challenged this in a way. It was important for the course to be bespoke but what use is bespoke without accessibility? What I extracted from this conversation was that it’s a fine balancing act, but that fluency in a language is undeniably valuable.

The general consensus throughout the day was that any and every language is a useful tool in anyone’s arsenal, but in particular, French, Spanish and Arabic were useful for a lot of humanitarian work.

Mental Health in Times of Crisis

There was an incredible talk by Dr Aala El-Khani on parenting during acute crises and displacement, as well as a general look at the psychological impacts of displacement on people. Her focus on parenting, with her origin story of being a parent herself, who could only focus on that aspect when hearing stories from her husband about the missions he went on, was captivating to me.

She shared the story of attaching a parental leaflet to packets of bread during the Syrian refugee crisis which was received extremely well and speaking at length with families struggling to care for their children during times of displacement. Although the stories shared throughout the whole day were really harrowing, the ones during her talk in particular made me feel a sadness like no other.

Despite all the sadness, her hugely successful ways of providing psychological first aid helped first-hand many families and children during the Syrian refugee crisis. Her continued work as a part of the United Nations and parent training is still powerful to this day.

If you want to see more about her work, she has also done multiple TED Talks like this one.


Beyond what I’ve discussed, there was also a lot of interesting scientific conversation and imagery of the kinds of injuries seen in conflict zones, which was extremely fascinating to find out more about. My mind and soul feel enriched. I can only aspire to spend as much of my future career so altruistically.

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