Ukrainian doctors are receiving further training at seven hospitals in Germany. The BG University Hospital Bergmannsheil Bochum specializes in treating serious injuries and burns, particularly those of soldiers.
A patient lies unconscious in the intensive care unit of the University Hospital in Bochum. Her facial features are hard to identify because of all her injuries. Her body is connected to various pipes and sensors, and the patient is fighting for her life.
But this sight does not affect the composure of the Ukrainian anesthesiologists Tetiana Buryak and Dmytro Sadyraka. They are calm as they stand next to the hospital bed, listening to their German colleagues and asking questions.
Buryak is from the city of Dnipro, while Sadyryka is from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. They are both specialized in treating patients with severe burns, including soldiers and civilians who have been injured during the ongoing war in Ukraine.
They are the third pair of Ukrainian doctors to have come to Bochum to take advantage of a hospital program that was established after German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach visited Ukraine last year and pledged to do more to help the wounded. The goal is to share German expertise with doctors who have to treat severely injured patients in Ukraine. By the end of 2022, 30 Ukrainian doctors had taken part in the program; another 10 arrived in January of this year.
Bochum is not the only city where Ukrainians can do internships and receive further training: Clinics in Ludwigshafen, Duisburg, Halle, Hamburg, Murnau and Tübingen are also taking part in the program.
Hands-on training for Ukrainian doctors
Ukrainian doctors aren’t permitted to treat German patients on their own, explains Marcus Lehnhardt, the director of the University Clinic for Plastic Surgery and Hand Surgery, the Intensive Care Unit for Severe Burns and the Sarcoma Unit in Bochum. He is responsible for the Ukrainian doctors doing internships in Bochum.
“The Ukrainian doctors accompany us in the morning on bedside visits, they’re with us during operations, and are also trained in areas that they specifically requested to be trained in. For example, when we administer anesthesia, they’re present for the entire operation. They can ask questions and assist with the procedure,” says Lehnhardt.
“Ukraine is a fully developed country; that’s why the know-how of the doctors interning here is already very extensive,” he says. “But there are still things that can be learned through observation. There are specific things we do a bit differently and perhaps even a bit better.”
In just two weeks, Buryak has been able to acquire a lot of practical knowledge, such as about how German doctors communicate with each other, how patients are washed and shaved, how medication is administered and which bandages to put on wounds.
She says that her hospital in Dnipro received a lot of foreign aid, medicine and other materials. “But sometimes we looked at that stuff and did not know what it was. When I got here, I took pictures, sent them to my nurses and explained what purpose the items served. Little things like that improve treatment overall,” says Burjak, who’s also the director of a physiology and intensive care unit at a hospital in Dnipro.
Successful treatment after training
Buryak says her surgeon colleagues, who were trained in Germany before she was, are already putting their new knowledge into practice.
She also says that her hospital has already been able to compare results. For example, three out of five miners who came in with burns were treated with German methods and recovered more quickly than the two who were treated with previous methods.
She also mentions another innovation that’s now being used in her clinic in Ukraine: the team timeout.
“Before we start an operation, we have what we call a team timeout,” explains Marcus Lehnhardt. “That’s when we take a minute to stop, look around and ask some very important questions. Is this the right patient? Is the indication correct? Is the side correct? Do we have all the necessary instruments? Have we remembered everything? The team timeout is a last check before we start operating.”
After talking with Ukrainian health-care workers, Lehnhardt came to the following conclusion: Ukrainian medical professionals do not lack knowledge or ability, but material supplies such as bandages.
Ukrainian doctors face major challenges
The Burn Center at Kyiv’s City Clinical Hospital No. 2 has already sent many doctors to Germany for internships.
They all agree about the differences between German and Ukrainian hospitals. In their opinion, German hospitals are better equipped, have more supplies, and — perhaps most importantly — they’re better staffed. The Ukrainian doctors say that the war has increased the burden on health-care workers in their country significantly.
To make matters worse, they say, the number of doctors hasn’t increased but in fact has actually decreased because many doctors are either on the front or have left the country.
“Treatment has gotten more difficult because the cases have gotten more difficult,” says Andriy Shernov, who also did an internship at a German hospital last November. “There are more soldiers and fewer children because many of them are outside of the country. Things have also become more difficult because water and electricity has been turned off.”
Dmytro Sadyraka, one of the anesthesiologists who arrived in Bochum in January, says that wounds from land mines are especially challenging. Aside from visible burns, there are also injuries that are not immediately obvious — for example, when organs have internal damage.
Another challenge is the risk of infection on the front. “There’s dirt and earth. Someone might possibly be dragged on the ground, which would prevent an injury from healing right away. They might lie on the battlefield for a while. Some go from one hospital to the next and get infected, or ambulances aren’t adequately disinfected,” says Sadyraka.
‘As many colleagues as possible should come to Germany’
Marcus Lehnhardt from the BG University Hospital Bergmannsheil Bochum is pleased that doctors from Ukraine are receiving further training at his hospital.
“Of course it’s always great to have an exchange with colleagues — to know what you’re going there and what we’re doing here. It’s also a good feeling to be able to teach something to a person from a war zone. That’s a positive aspect. We all feel a certain helplessness, like we can’t do much. If people here can help them to learn, it contributes to the feeling that there is actually support available, and that’s great,” says Lehnhardt.
When asked what they plan to do after their training, Tetiana Buryak and Dmytro Sadyraka say they intend to rest, sleep and live a peaceful life for a while. Buryak says that because of the war and the intense burden on health-care workers, further training is no longer possible in Ukraine.
She recommends that as many of her colleagues, including nurses, come to Germany as possible. Now, she also knows what devices and supplies her colleagues in Ukraine need so that they can better treat the wounded.