War as a positive medical educational experience

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Abstract

CONTEXT

There is little empirical evidence in the literature regarding the nature of the experiences of medical students during war. In this study we set out to assess and analyse the experiences of medical students and residents in Beirut, Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon–Israel war.

METHODS

Students and residents working at the American University of Beirut Medical Center and the Beirut Government University Hospital during the July 2006 war were invited to participate. A total of 21 students or residents took part in either a focus group or one of 11 semi-structured interviews. These were recorded, transcribed and analysed to bring out common themes.

RESULTS

Although the wartime experience was stressful, medical students and residents reported many largely positive effects of war on their medical training. Students adapted to the difficult conditions and became more resourceful. Participants connected emotionally with their patients and were able to show more compassion. They felt pride in their chosen profession and had higher levels of motivation for dealing with the normally irksome aspects of medical practice. Practical skills associated with the treatment of wartime injuries were learned, as were more general lessons about life priorities.

CONCLUSIONS

Despite the curtailing of formal educational activities, participants benefited from positive learning experiences in a wartime environment. Strikingly, participants ‘cared’ more for their patients. Further research looking at the underlying cause of this increased level of compassion may be useful in the education of all medical students, not just those involved in conflict.

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