Students Without Borders

Doctor carrying a wounded child in the city of Aleppo

It’s well known that studying medicine is a stressful and hard path to take. In fact, many of us were advised not to study medicine due to its difficulty, but would anything stand against passion? With all this passion and desire to fulfill our ambitions, there must be some hardships and struggles to surpass or sometimes to cope with. For instance, as we mentioned at the beginning that we have years of hard work, tons of textbooks and hundreds of details to memorize. Moreover, medicine in developing countries is way too harder because of logistical issues such as the critical numbers of students in one university which make it difficult to concentrate either in lectures or in practical sessions, in addition to lack of a firm infrastructure in the universities. And not to forget that the situation in Syria, the country that is facing one of the worst crises in the century, has diminished our opportunities in gaining the experience we need in order to build a successful and robust medical community in our wounded homeland.

In the past decades, hundreds of Syrian doctors have traveled to continue their studies abroad. With exchanging experience they have learnt in Syria and the knowledge they grasped internationally, many of Syrian doctors have made marvelous achievements around the world in both medical practice and research.  So, we cannot deny the role of traveling and gaining expertise in developing the local health care environment besides enriching the cultural and scientific shared knowledge around the world.

Those experts who have transferred the knowledge they learnt from United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and other countries to their own country, have formed a core reference for other health workers in Syria. However, with all the burdens of the crisis that prevented ambitious doctors to develop their experience in international colleges, and limited the ability for immigrant doctors to return to Syria, they continue to make great efforts to enhance the quality of life in the places where they work.

For us, as war destroys lives, buildings, dreams, and potentials, we Syrian medical students are doing our best to stand tall in the storm. Although we are spending our youth under a war-torn sky, where everything around us rages with violence and destruction, we are still giving our all to fulfill our sacred message while getting by with the daily struggles that war has imposed. We are making the best of what we have left of hope and materials. 

The Syrian crisis has led to devastating consequences on the national infrastructure and economy, which directly affected Syrian citizens in all sectors of life. Most Syrians are now categorized in the low- to- middle income classes. The monthly income of most citizens is presumably between 50 and 150 dollars per month. In fact, a lot of families are living on less than a 100 dollar monthly income which barely supplies the basic needs to live, not mentioning the economic sanctions that are being imposed every now and then leaving the Syrian citizens helpless. This massive deterioration of living standards has taken its toll on most students here. Many necessities have become unattainable for them; many obstacles emerged in their way, but yet the vast majority of them are still fighting for proper education; for a better future.    

We have set a goal to always seek learning opportunities and high-quality education no matter how hard life goes. Some of us hope to finish their studies and do their internships abroad, where hospitals and facilities are more developed, and where the learning atmosphere is more helpful. Unfortunately, given that almost all embassies suspended operations and closed for normal consular services, such opportunities are getting rarer. Now, if we ever intend to take a course or apply for training programs outside Syria, we have become obligated to travel to other countries in a desperate attempt to apply for a Visa, which is of course troublesome and not always possible due to high traveling costs, not mentioning that neighboring countries now reject our applications to cross their borders in the first place. Even if life smiles at us and we get to apply, it is next to impossible for a Syrian student to issue a visitor Visa to most, if not all, countries worldwide. Helplessness and frustration sometimes reign over us, as more and more doors are slammed shut in our faces, and as all the bright dreams that we once had are crashing down with everyday passing by.

Despite the harsh circumstances our everlasting dream to become as well-trained as our peers in safer more-developed areas of the world is still alive. We have devoted our present and future for patients’ care. We are determined to study hard, take global medical qualification exams, and keep learning and working to re-build our country and community in the future. Most of us are now preparing to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination [USMLE]. It is one of the most challenging medical examinations in the world, and we know we are qualified to ace it. The real challenge is to afford all the studying materials (Books, Q banks, videos, etc…) and the registration fees that can reach up to $3,500, nearly 20 times the average monthly income of a Syrian citizen. Another obstacle is that there are no authorized centers providing the USMLE exams in Syria. This means students have to travel to a neighboring country in order to take the exam; which brings back the dilemma of traveling permits and costs.

There’s no doubt that the opportunities Syrian students have do, do not match their potentials or their ambitions. It is true that life is really hard for Syrians, but we will keep tight to whatever flicker of hope there still is. We’ll keep working tirelessly on our clinical training, taking online courses, getting highly-credible certificates, and learning the basics of research until our fantasies of a brighter future turn into reality.

We are full of hope that one day the international community, and senior physicians and researchers around the globe, will devote some time to help us rise from the ashes, shape a better future, and take role in promoting healthcare delivery in our country and worldwide.

About the authors:

  • Mahmoud Alkhatib, 6th year medical student in a 6-year program at Damascus University. I have been graded in the top ten students in the last four years, and have been awarded from the faculty. My interest in research has emerged in the third year, and since then I have started working with my colleagues on some projects to help make the future of our faculty. I will continue on this road since my goal is to be a good researcher who will make a change and leave his imprint.  Mahmoud may be reached at
  • Tarek Turk, 6th year medical student in a six-year program at Damascus University, Syria. I have always seen myself as a clinician and a researcher, and have worked hard my entire life to achieve this goal. I believe that we were not meant to pass from this life without leaving a trace, and I decided to leave a trace in science. I have major interests in knowledge synthesis, Evidence-based healthcare, and linking medicine to artificial intelligence. Tarek may be reached at
  • Hazem Da’doush, 23 years old, and a 6th year medical student in a 6-year program at Damascus University. I have always considered myself as a Results-Driven, Focused and Visionary kind of person. Joining medical school was just the first step for me towards my dream of becoming a successful clinician.

Besides medicine, I’m an accomplished guitarist whose love for music has helped through a lot so far and will continue to do so! I believe that music can cross many barriers and connect people from all over the world regardless of their backgrounds or any other obstacles that might stand between us. 

I have had the honor to play at the Syrian-European Business Center and so many other concerts that took place in the Opera House in Damascus.
I also have interest in medical research, evidence-based medicine and the latest technological discoveries. Hazem may be reached at:

  • Sarah is a senior year student at the Faculty of Medicine, Damascus University. She was born and lives in Sweida, Syria. Sarah is a first aider and resuscitation provider. She is passionate about medicine, especially neuroscience. She wants to become a clinician as well as a researcher. She believes that education and strengthening youth potentials are the keys to create a better future for Syria. She is also concerned about women education and empowering in third- world countries. Sarah may be reached at:
  • Ahmad Alkhaledi, 21 years old, 4th medical student at the faculty of medicine, Damascus University. I love technology, design, and volunteering. CEO and Founder of In1Minute, which is an educational project that aims to share knowledge and information among students. I have big interest in research, besides the passion in making learning medical stuff in the Arab World easier through technology by providing visual videos. Ahmad may be reached at  And you can learn more about his project “In1Minute” via this site:
  • Fatima was born in Damascus. She is a senior year student at Faculty of Medicine, Damascus University. Fatima is a member in Cochrane training network, she is leader of academic projects at Ahyaha, and an educator. She leads research projects in MyDoctor initiative. She is interested in developing research community in Syria, she has an ambition to support the education process for Syrian students and to improve health care in Syria. In her opinion, Health, education and research are extremely important issues to work on during crisis. Fatima may be reached at
  • Lilav Hussein, sixth-year medical student in a 6- year program at Damascus university, from kamishli Syria. From a young age, I have always been enthralled by human body, and it was the direct result of my compassion for researches which I consider it a great tool to prove understanding of various issues. My goal as a future doctor is to employ such new techniques that aspire to enhance the health of people and the importance of mind-body connection. Lilav may be reached at

Guest Authors Initiative:

The IIT Syrian student blog welcomes guest contributions from university students from Syria and around the globe.  To learn more about the Guest Authors Initiative, please contact Suhaib at 

Suhaib was born in Kamishli, Syria, and earned his bachelor’s degree in December 2014 from Illinois Institute of Technology’s Armour College of Engineering, with earlier studies at Aleppo University and Damascus University. Suhaib majored in Civil Engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. Upon graduation, he accepted a position as a project engineer working on projects throughout the state of Illinois; he lives in Springfield, Illinois. Suhaib previously worked with Jasmine Baladi Studio, an NGO that works to support Syrian children in refugee camps in Turkey. Suhaib regularly writes for the Syrian Students for a Better Future Blog.

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