AAOS Bulletin - April, 2005

Iraqi orthopaedist welcomed at 2005 Annual Meeting

Scholarship recipient appreciates opportunity to learn in the U.S.

By Kathleen Misovic

As chief of orthopaedics and the dean of the Medical College Hospital in Basrah, Iraq, Thamer Hamdan, FRCS, has been teaching orthopaedic surgeons for the past 25 years.

But for one month this year he took time out as a teacher to be a student in the United States. Dr. Hamdan is one of the 2005 AAOS Corporate Advisory Council Scholarship recipients. This scholarship program enables orthopaedic surgeons from less economically stable nations to participate in surgical skills courses in the United States.

Thamer Hamdan, FRCS, (left) receives his AAOS membership plaque from Robert W. Bucholz, MD, 2004-2005 AAOS president, during the 2005 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

“I am in the United States to learn rather than to teach,” Dr. Hamdan said. “Iraqi doctors are in need of American experiences and knowledge in orthopaedics.”

Dr. Hamdan traveled to Orange County, Calif., at the end of January to participate in an orthopaedic continuing education program on advances in spine surgery. He then flew to Washington, D.C., to attend the 2005 Annual Meeting. “I’m enjoying the symposia and the lectures and I’ve been a speaker myself. I’ve been a very active participant.”

But before he could leave for the United States, Dr. Hamdan had a very important task to complete in Iraq. “I voted in the Iraq elections and immediately the next morning I came to the United States,” Dr. Hamdan said. “I was scheduled to leave earlier, but I put it off for a day so I could vote.”

Dr. Hamdan said he is pleased with the election results and is hopeful that Iraqi medicine will be able to make advances under the new administration. “The previous government concentrated on making war weapons, rifles and guns,” he said. “It spent 85 percent of the country’s budget on weapons and one percent on medical education.”

As a result of this budget neglect, hospitals in Iraq suffer from outdated equipment and a lack of physicians. Dr. Hamdan said the country has only about 400 orthopaedic surgeons. “We hope to double the number of orthopaedic surgeons in the coming years,” he said.

Dr. Hamdan is a specialist in spine and tumor surgeries. The most common problems he sees are tumor malignancies and infections caused by chemical weapons and war injuries. The country also has a problem with pollution and poverty that results in poor health for many of its people.

Dr. Hamdan believes the biggest problem facing Iraq right now and contributing to its medical problems is a lack of security.

“With no security there’s no life, no progress. If we can get the government stabilized, we can overcome a lot of our troubles, like lack of education and unemployment,” he said.

This is the seventh time Dr. Hamdan has been in the United States for training and other efforts to improve Iraqi medicine. He listed four main reasons for being in the country this time.

“As a scholarship winner, I am here to learn the latest orthopaedic surgery techniques and new methods for training. I am here to see old friends and meet new ones. I am here to transfer the good feelings of the Iraqi people to the American government. But most of all I am here to build a bridge between the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Iraqi Orthopaedic Association,” he said.

Dr. Hamdan was impressed with the 2005 Annual Meeting. “The conference is highly organized, very useful, to-the-point and has very good speakers,” he said. “I’ve attended many conferences and this one has the highest attendance.”

Dr. Hamdan hopes that he and other Iraqi physicians will be able to attend more medical conferences as their country stabilizes. “We are hopeful we can put our passport in our pocket and have the freedom to travel outside the country,” he said, adding that Iraqi citizens applying for travel visas have had to wait as long as three months to find out if their requests were approved. “I am grateful and give my sincere thanks to the Academy for giving me this opportunity to come here to learn. I hope to have many more opportunities to do this in the future, for both myself and my colleagues.”

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