Magpas Air Ambulance Dr Chris Hook joined the charity in August. He’s working in a 50:50 split role, providing lifesaving care to patients with Magpas Air Ambulance and facilitating critical care retrievals for children with PaNDR, the region’s Paediatric and Neonatal Decision Support and Retrieval service: the first role of its kind in the country.
Chris’ journey into pre-hospital medicine was a little different than most; working in war zones and poverty stricken areas with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—known also as Doctors without Borders—and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). We spoke to him about his unique career so far…
How did you come to work with these organisations? What was it that drove you to pursue this career?
“From a young age I knew I wanted to travel and see as much of the world as possible. Working in medicine has offered me a unique way of doing that.
“As a student I went to South Africa for my elective placement and worked in a township hospital in Johannesburg. It was the first time I had truly seen for myself the levels of inequality of healthcare provision around the world. This experience led me to return to South Africa to work in a rural hospital as soon as I had completed my foundation training as a doctor, which fuelled my passion for providing healthcare in resource limited environments even further.
“When a natural break in my career came again during my Emergency Medicine training, I took the opportunity to study Tropical Medicine and International Health. It was whilst doing this that I started working with both MSF and ICRC. By that time that I had the knowledge and experience to really make a difference; providing healthcare to those most in need, in parts of the world where they had limited or no access to it.
“The main motivator for me was, and remains, a desire to help ensure greater equity of opportunity and care for all.”
Where did you work, and who with, in that time?
“With the ICRC I worked in Gaza and Egypt, helping to develop Emergency Departments within hospitals and providing training on the treatment of critically ill patients in the ED.
“With MSF I worked in a wide range of different countries and contexts: Refugee camps and remote villages in South Sudan providing paediatric medical care; with the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, treating children with diphtheria and measles during large outbreaks there; I worked twice in Nigeria, treating cholera and organising mass vaccine campaigns to stop the outbreak, and then doing the same for children during a large Malaria outbreak; in Yemen I worked in the port city of Hodeida to set up an Emergency Department and Trauma Surgery service whilst the city was under siege in the war there, before going to Gaza to help with providing limb salvage surgery and mass casualty treatment for people shot in the Great March of Return, as well as supporting burns care for the area. My most recent MSF job was providing treatment and vaccinations during a large Measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
You came back to the UK when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Would you go back into that line of work/working environment?
“I completely intend to return to working with these organisations in the future. At the moment I am focussed on developing as a Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine clinician and working towards completing my specialisation as an EM doctor, but I am also part of a charity providing medical support in Kenya. Once I complete my EM training and have the opportunity to be away from the UK for longer, I will definitely be back working for the ICRC and MSF in some fashion.”
It must be an extremely hard environment to work in. What was the most challenging part of your work with these organisations?
“There are many challenges. The food and living arrangements for one (rice and beans for every meal, sleeping in a small tent and having ice-cold bucket showers in South Sudan springs to mind!). There’s also challenges that come with not speaking the local language (or the multiple local languages), even when you try your best to learn! And the team members tend to change fairly frequently too, so you’re forever getting to know new colleagues.
“There are also the safety concerns. In all of the places I’ve worked there is risk of violence and war in the regions. You have to stay calm as people with guns shout at you at checkpoints (or sometimes even in the hospital), when bullets are flying and rockets are being launched nearby… or even worse, when they are landing just as close!
“However, the hardest part of the job for me was coming to terms with the limitations of the support you can offer. You can always see more areas in which the hospital/clinic/local population you are supporting need help, but we physically can’t provide everything that is needed, and this can lead to difficult decisions and hard conversations. Thankfully, so far people have always remained simply grateful for everything that we have been able to provide.”
And what was the most rewarding?
“The most rewarding aspect of the job is the fact that I have met and become friends with some of the most inspirational people I could ever imagine meeting.
“Everywhere that I have worked with people suffering due to armed conflict, severe poverty and outbreaks of disease, I have also found local people rising above their own daily challenges in these terrible situations to help everyone else around them. I’ve met people who dedicate their own lives (often when they themselves could easily leave) to support others and try to make things just a little better for everyone. To see them sacrifice so much, and continue to struggle themselves as a result of trying to help others, is truly humbling and inspiring and makes any small challenges that I have faced whilst doing this work seem trivial.”