Swindon medical student at Ukrainian university left in limbo

By Barrie Hudson - 16 March 2022

  • Saaria Ahmed at home in Swindon

    Saaria Ahmed at home in Swindon

A would-be doctor from Swindon faces an uncertain future after her studies in Ukraine were halted by the war.

  • A street scene in Dnipro, where Saaria studies medicine

    A street scene in Dnipro, where Saaria studies medicine

Saaria Ahmed studies at Dnipro Medical Institute of Traditional and Non-Traditional Medicine in eastern Ukraine, about 240 miles from Kiev.
Ms Ahmed, who already holds a degree in biology, decided to train overseas after finding British medical schools oversubscribed in spite of an ongoing doctor shortage.
Returning to Britain last December as covid numbers increased, she continued to study online - but that was before Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion.
Now the medical student is pinning her hopes on being able to complete her necessary 5,500 clinical hours to register with the UK's General Medical Council on completion of her medical degree.
Great Western Hospital says it accepts medical students, but that they must go through one of its partner universities, Oxford, Bristol of King's College, London.
Ms Ahmed, who hopes to specialise in paediatrics, said: "I went in as a graduate entry student because have a biology degree. I started in third year in September 2020. 
"At first I looked here in the UK, but because it's so competitive I decided to not waste any more time and look abroad to see what opportunities there were to study medicine. 
"I enquired at a few universities, and because Ukraine were offering a graduate entry course and I liked how the course looked, I decided to go with them.
"Up until now the course has been great and I've learned a lot. I did have to initially catch up, so I had state exams in June 2021 which I passed."
Ms Ahmed, is one of about 1,000 British students at the university who study subjects including medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.
She and her group of friends were delighted at reception they received from local people, including the couple who own the apartments they rent.
"When we went there and were looking for apartments, people were very welcoming and telling us to speak to agencies and estate agencies.
"I couldn't sing more praises of the landlord that myself and my friends managed to get. There were two of us in one apartment, and my other two friends in another apartment.
"Our landlords are an elderly couple. They were very welcoming. They have this tradition that when new people come into your country or your neighbourhood, if it's ladies moving into your apartment, the gentleman brings a bunch of flowers.They also bring delicacies, which are quite famous in Ukraine.
"They came and shared what kind of country it is and how things work there. Whenever we had a problem we would always call them and they were very willing to come and help us.
"It's a lovely nation, so all of this that's happening there is just awful. 
"When we left in December our classes were online because the covid cases were going up again, so we decided that before it became worse we'd come back home. We thought we'd be home for Christmas and back over there in February. Because our second semester started in February, we enquired and they said classes would be continuing online for the moment until covid cases were down.
"When we left Dnipro in December we thought we'd be back within a couple of months. 
"Being over there we knew there had always been a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and things always used to go up in the air for a month or two and then settle down again. We thought that would be a similar situation this time around, but we never imagined that is would go into a fully-fledged war."
Ms Ahmed, who currently works in IT at Great Western Hospital, and who also began volunteering there a decade ago, aimed to qualify as a doctor in 2024, but that future is in jeopardy unless she can secure a place at a British medical school.
She said: "I want to raise awareness that, as well as myself, there are maybe another thousand students at my university completing dentistry, medical or pharmacy degrees. They need to be somehow accommodated in the UK.
"My main aim for myself and my friends is that we are able to secure medical places here in the UK and get our voices heard by MPs and the Chancellors of universities, so they know what our situation is. Even though we are in a Ukrainian university we are UK students who have gone over there.
"I want to see the same kind of coverage and the same kind of security from the UK Government - that they are willing to take us on as medical students within the UK without any further additional tests or exams, in order to get into a UK medical school.
"Here in the UK there is a shortage of at least 50,000 doctors. Already a third of the doctors in the UK are international doctors. If, for example, they can actually teach us students who come from Ukraine over here, they will have doctors who are up and running for when we graduate.
"As people get older there will need to be more of a medical workforce in place. Life expectancy is increasing as well, so the UK is going to have to cater for more medical students and doctors who can actually come back and work here."
The medical student has written to a number of Cabinet Ministers asking for assistance, and has also been in touch with her local MP, JustinTomlinson, who has been in touch with the Department for Education on her behalf.
A friend and classmate, Londoner Archana Pusparaja, said: "We have been trying to contact universities in the UK about continuing our studies. Most of them are not really accepting, but we are still trying."
A Great Western Hospital spokesperson said: "We take in medical students all the time to do their medical placements at GWH, but the way to do this is that they have got to be registered with one of our three partner universities.
"This can be Oxford, Bristol or King's College, London."

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