[INTERVIEW] More Hospitals… More Doctors, Eritrean Dr. Dawit Tesfai

by Asmait Futsumbrhan

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Today is the 7th Commencment of the Orotta School of Medicne, every Eritrean would agree that we are blessed with amazing doctors. The history of Eritrean doctors starting from the days of the armed struggle is a history of humanity; and just like their forefathers and foremothers, here we are now, with amazing young professionals who continue the legacy. Thus on this special juncture, we are with a special guest today; last years’ graduate Dr. Dawit Tesfai.

Can you tell us about yourself?

I was born in Asmara in 1989. I was a prize winner in my early educational years.

Why medical school and how was it?

I guess my father influenced me. He had a pharmaceutical-related job. I never for once hesitated to join medical school. It isn’t an easy field. It is both difficult and interesting, because while in other disciplines, you study without fearing the loss of life, in medical school you are focused on one and only one aim: that is to save lives.

Medicine is a field that has accumulated centuries of proficiency, and to actually study it in just a few years cannot simply be an easy task. It requires dedication and hard work on top of the will to know more. So, medical school was challenging, definitely the most competitive years which made every student overly enthusiastic and dedicated towards their goal.

How does it feel to be a doctor?

To be honest, it is a satisfying job: the Holy Grail of human being! A doctor’s ultimate aim is to save lives and be of help to those in desperate need. It requires your full time and dedication, so much so, that the hospital becomes your life and the patients your family.

We normally don’t have time to go out and grab tea whenever. We rarely enjoy our free time as our minds are preoccupied by our patients. We stay up many nights, sometimes, work for more than 70 hours.

Our professional journey is filled with all sorts of emotions. We welcome newborns and bid farewells equally.

What do you think about the compassion of Eritrean health practitioners?

We commonly understand that a good doctor is one that has humanity. The work starts with a smile to assure patients that everything will be alright, and if not, at least that the health practitioner will do his/ her best till the end.

Our patients are not experimental guinea pigs. On the very first day of class, we learn that a patient more than anything needs reassurance. We learn that they need to be treated with respect and humanity. The medical treatment probably comes last.

This is exactly what makes us different from Western health practitioners. We live in a time where humanity has lost its original meaning, but fortunately we have a good culture which places respect to all and compassion towards the needy as its core.

When someone enters our doors, we have a holistic approach. We try to look at the problems that go beyond the frames of X-RAY files. We try to make the patients our friends, maybe they have problems at home, maybe they are afraid they can’t’ afford hospital services. Everything is worth it when a patient is saved.

How did it feel to go from a student to graduate assistant?

It is an opportunity for me that goes beyond teaching but to learn more by the day. I told you before it’s impossible for a doctor to know everything about medicine. We have to be constantly updated and read and refer to as many documents as we can.

Truthfully, I gain a lot from my students while teaching; we equally share experiences and ideas.

Also, I personally believe that we are obligated to make a change. We need to contribute and share our ideas and talents to make a difference. But if you are ever to make a difference, you first have to work hard and be well-informed so that you can be a good example to your subordinates.

What is your opinion on the current medical situation in Eritrea?

We certainly do have the potential. No questions there. I am beyond certain that all of the Eritrean doctors are devoted as well as keen to know more. I believe that we can accomplish big things in the medical field. We can have amazing hospitals that can compete internationally and be regional centers.

Of course, we have some shortages. We’ve only recently got our independence, and material and infrastructure-wise, we might not be overly glamorous compared to Western countries. Nevertheless, this is does not drag us behind but encourages us to think outside of the box.

How do you mean?

Well, it allows us doctors to courageously use our creativity and to overcome our shortages and aim for best results within our capacity.

Moreover, here in Eritrea, when we specialize in a specific field it does not mean that it is all we know. Differently from doctors in other countries, we have to familiar with almost every other field.

What do you think of the health of our society?

Our society is a hard working one, even the elders work extremely hard, and we don’t think we are bound to get sick. We don’t whine much about small aches and we hate going to hospitals. However, now that we have hospitals and health centers in almost every part of the country, people should be aware of their health and go to hospitals way before they get sick. In order to do that, we need to have wide media coverage on the health sector.

Our country has been doing wonders in the health sector–in fact we are internationally recognized for it. There is the eradication of several communicable diseases and harmful practices and health services are subsidized. So people should be encouraged to do pre-checks at least once year.

What message do you have for students?

I really expect them to be better than the ones who came before. They are all hard workers and I know they can be the best. Medicine is not just about studying, it involves everlasting team work, and it is based on communication between the hospital staff, starting from the gate keepers and janitors up to the surgeons.

Everyone including students, staff and doctors has the will to learn and update their knowledge, which is a great thing, as it creates a platform for everyone to discuss and benefit from each other’s ideas.

Thank you for your time Doctor. Any last words?

Thank you for having me on your page. A big thank you to everyone who backed me through my educational journey. My success is truly the result of many people’s help.

One more message to the new doctors graduating today: “Congratulations, I am proud of your achievements. Keep up the good work and be of service to our people!”