Life-Changing Stories: Fatima

I am a Syrian woman, a clinician, wife and mother. When the war began I was a physics teacher in Turkey. I knew there would be a huge need for Prosthetists and Orthotists clinicians and technicians, and my family and I decided to move to Syria so I could help people impacted by the war this way. I knew that in Syria previously, P&O services were only linked to the Army and it was not open for people outside the army. In Syrian society women cannot be treated by males especially for above knee support. I knew this is a gap for women and wanted to help. I got a job in Northern Syria at the NSPPL clinic and shortly after starting I was offered the opportunity to train with Human Study. I studied for the Cat 2 (clinical fitness to practice) exams and passed those 3 years later. It changed my practice. Previously I had been learning from more experienced staff but I now see the methods we were using were outdated, and less effective for patients.

Students of prosthetics examining a foot cast

During this first course we saw how incredible it was when word traveled after our training. We would learn a new technique, and local partners, doctors, hospitals started hearing that we had had the training, and the number of patients that came to us increased massively. After each training we would start receiving people with the injuries we had been properly taught to make and fit devices for, word would get out quickly and the numbers of patients kept rising. It changed how other NGOs and the medical profession viewed us. They trusted us and would confidently refer patients to us. We could work with all injuries now. 

After the basic training things started to change across the clinic.. Many of our staff don’t even have a full primary education.  That meant that whilst there were 15 of us that had taken the course, the majority of staff at the clinic hadn’t. They could see the difference it had made to our practice, so they were more interested in learning from us. It transformed our clinic’s ability to attract partners and staff, physiotherapists, and other clinicians, nurses and therapists now wanted to work alongside us, confident that they were somewhere that the disabled people get a great service.

It is tough being a woman in a male dominated profession. At the beginning and as I was developing skills and knowledge, it was hard.  Some men couldn’t accept I was capable, or more knowledgeable than them.

We knew that Human Study was trying to find funding for some of us to take the formal bachelor’s degree course that would qualify us as teachers and Associate Level (Category 1) prosthetics and orthotists. I wanted to do that.

Then the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation agreed to fund this. I was pregnant with my second child when the opportunity arose, and gave birth at the beginning of the course.  We were living through war, and as a woman, I am expected to take care of the home. I was already teaching my peers how to do things. I knew my male colleagues couldn’t show girls / women this is a career path open to them at the highest levels, as I could. so I decided to take it on anyway.

I continued working at the clinic, treating patients and teaching other staff, and had a busy home life with a baby and a toddler. As we started the final year of the teaching course I found out that I was pregnant again with my third child. It was a lot, I was struggling.

What was incredible was the difference the training made. Once we knew how to teach what we were teaching, we could apply it immediately in the clinic.

Prosthetists working in a workshop

Our team started with other P&O clinicians and then with the Physical Therapists and physios that had joined our center  – we all worked under the same technical committee. I led the technical committee. When discussing cases, there was sometimes some conflict but, after a period, the team became more unified in terms of views and approaches. The clinical team training with Human Study would give new direction based on our studies and this would provoke good discussion. Over time this became an excellent committee made up of P&O clinicians, social workers & technical support and we would all discuss as one the care plan for the patient. These improvements weren’t just at our clinic – an orthotics doctor in the nearest public hospital started calling for advice and guidance from our team e.g a case of scoliosis. We went from many opposing views to really working as one team. 

I would like to say thanks to all parties that fund Human Study and especially to the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation who funded our studies. I wish that the training and scholarship opportunities could be repeated across the region. The knowledge of technicians is not consistently good. Some charities and institutions are trying but the level isn’t as good as Human Study. The knowledge we gained has made such a difference and the team can now judge the overall standard others are providing and see that it is not good enough.