Physiotherapists from West Bank Receive Training at URI – Soča
Conflict-affected societies often do not possess national capabilities for providing complicated medical support to victims of conflicts. ITF is therefore implementing a capacity building project providing training of medical experts from Ramala, West Bank.
In the beginning of September Ruba and Shadi, experts from West Bank arrived to the University Rehabilitation Institute of the Republic of Slovenia (URI – Soča), where they are receiving extensive training in physical and rehabilitation medicine. 100 hours of training in 20 days have been specifically designed for the two physiotherapists. An important aspect of their training includes familiarising the experts with a team approach to rehabilitation.
The aim of the project is building sustainability of national medical capacities through knowledge transfer. It will enable experts to apply the gained experience to their profession and practice back in Ramala, taking into account local limitations and specifics. In turn, it encourages capacity building and development of local medical institutions and ensures effective and appropriate medical rehabilitation for mine/UXO victims.
The project is financed by the Republic of Slovenia, Republic of Korea and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).
We met with Ruba and Shadi and they told us about their experience in Slovenia and their professional practice.
How do you find your stay here in Slovenia?
Ruba: Slovenia is beautiful; you can see nature virtually everywhere. Everything is green, there are new buildings and people take care of both nature and infrastructure.
Shadi: People have great habits and traditions in Slovenia, but what I like the most about Ljubljana is the green dragon.
How does your daily routine look like during training at URI – Soča?
Ruba: We start in the morning at 9AM sharp. Every two or three days we rotate between different departments where we get all the necessary information. On the first day, we received the training plan, and we were surprised how many specialised departments there are at URI Soča. At every department, there are new technologies and medical equipment to explore, observe and compare. We can always ask any questions about procedures, technology or anything we are wondering about, and we still manage to find some free time to explore Ljubljana and Slovenia. There is no routine; there are new people every day, new techniques and new approaches, so it is never boring. Sometimes when we have free time we even come back to URI – Soča in the afternoon and talk to patients or play with children.
Shadi: The general field is physiotherapy. We learn a lot, but three days for a department is quite little. We would need to observe more than one patient with a specific injury or use of rehabilitation technique, because we really want to learn as much as possible to bring back to the West Bank.
Ruba: The whole training takes one month, so with 10 departments, that is 2-3 days at one department, where we can learn and observe, without much practice. It would significantly add to our skill set if the training would allow for more specialisation, so that we come for one month to a specific department and try physiotherapy approaches in practice.
What is the biggest difference that you identified between practices in the West Bank and Slovenia?
Shadi: Physiotherapy is physiotherapy. The biggest difference is finance. In Slovenia, all the medical equipment is new, while in West Bank we do things by hand. This approach in Slovenia is better for both the practitioners and the patients. In addition, it saves time so more patients can be treated.
Ruba: In Slovenia, physiotherapists renew knowledge with every new piece of medical equipment, which is not the case in the West Bank.
Shadi: In the West Bank, you only have one general department of physiotherapy, where all patients come to with different kinds of injuries. At URI – Soča you have different departments. Head injuries are treated in the department for head injuries, spinal cord injuries at the department specialised in spinal cords. This is definitely a better approach.
Shadi: In the West Bank there are only two centres for physiotherapy, so people wait for the rehabilitation and the quality is sadly lower.
What got you interested in physiotherapy? How did you select this profession?
Ruba: I always wanted to help people. One of my relatives had a stroke, and watching how the physiotherapist helped him recover finalised the decision for me. People sometimes do not understand what physiotherapy is and think it is nonsense. However, it is getting better with every year and every rehabilitated person. People see its importance and how we help patients with injuries.
Where do you see the advantages or shortcomings of the training?
Shadi: The advantage of this training is that we can travel and see how a modern institute for rehabilitation looks like. Different departments that are well staffed and equipped. No country in the Arab region has such an institute for rehabilitation and physiotherapy, so people come to Europe for rehabilitation, which is expensive. Since there are only two centres in the West Bank people have to wait for their turn, where most severe injuries have priority. The waiting time can worsen the injury. The advantage was to see how such a centre operates.
However, the disadvantage is that since there are so many departments we were lost at times. Everything we did was from observation or from a theoretical perspective, so when we return we have no ‘hands down’ experience. If people could come for a month to a doctor to be supervised and actually conduct physiotherapy that would help a lot additionally. I would propose that training would be conducted in two stages. In the first stage, participants would get a general overview, while in the second they would be specialised in one or two specific practices.
For how long have you been practicing physiotherapy? How does your day look like in the West Bank?
Shadi: I have been a therapist for three years.
Ruba: I have been practicing physiotherapy for two years, but I also conduct research and oversee students studying physiotherapy.
Shadi: Our days last from 9.00 to 21.00. We work longer hours and we are tired, since we do everything by hand, as they probably used to do here. We also work more hours, so that we get payed better and we live better lives. All our patients come to therapy in the morning and leave in the evening. No one sleeps over.
Ruba: My work is similar to Shadi’s, with some research and student oversight, but I never get to see patients with spinal cord injuries or head injuries, since they cannot stay at our facilities. Such patients usually leave for physiotherapy abroad.
And the study of physiotherapy in West Bank? How does it look like?
Ruba: The study of physiotherapy lasts for four years with theory and some practice, which is strictly supervised. The study is followed by an exam at the Ministry of Health and after passing that exam you can practice physiotherapy. The study in West Bank is also focused on theory so practice is highly valued.
How would you improve this specific training?
Shadi: I would like to thank ITF for the chance to visit URI – Soča, but I would suggest to focus future efforts on practice. We do not need more people, but people who get better results, so that they work directly and receive applicable knowledge and practice.
Ruba: I attended some courses in Jordan that were quite expensive, but we have gotten a lot of practical experience. When we finish our education we have mainly theoretical experience, so both Shadi and I got all the knowledge from courses and practicing. Looking back, this indeed was the added value that helped us the most with patients. Also maybe an option would be to have two weeks for a general overview and two weeks for practice. For example, amputations are quite common in West Bank so focus on this field is indeed needed.
ITF together with Ruba and Shadi is thankful to all the donors for creating this opportunity.