War Serves as Training Ground for Psychiatrist

By Amer Smajkic, MD

Twelve people sat in the large living room. They gathered on the floor around a few oil lamps. A doctor was checking their blood pressure, talking about what I know now to be immunization, sanitation, food preparation and storage, preventive medicine and healthy living. My father — a physician and professor of public health in Bosnia and Herzegovina — was doing his work. He was educating people and giving the villagers lifesaving information they lacked, as they had also lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. Some of them had not seen a physician more than once or twice in their lives.

I often think of experiences like these when I think of my early exposure to medicine and caretaking. My father’s dedication was demonstrated by a meticulous attention to careful listening and understanding his patients. This was my guiding example. I decided to study medicine because of these experiences.

After graduation, I began work as a general practitioner and continued research and teaching activities in pharmacology. Then the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina began. There was war in my country, in my city and in my clinic. I was assigned to a vascular surgery residency program to serve my country. My first day in the surgery clinic was in the middle of a battle. I treated people on the front line, in the hospital, assisting in hundreds of surgical procedures — how many I cannot remember — while in constant risk of death by bullets, bombs, hunger or thirst. Continue reading