A New Journey in the Midst of Tragedy. A Story of a Burmese Doctor’s Path to the UK During a Pandemic and Military Coup.

By Dr Thinn Ei Hlaing

This blog is written by medical doctor and Myanmar diaspora, Dr Thinn Ei Hlaing. Thinn Ei shares her experiences of joining the UK healthcare workforce midst the coup.

Thinn Ei is a Junior Clinical Fellow in General Cardiology at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital. She trained in Yangon, and moved to the UK in Autumn 2020.

Having a dream to be a trained international cardiologist is the main driving factor which has pushed me to come all the way to the UK. Not being a fluent English speaker but having full hopes and ambitions, I have overcome many struggles to arrive at the NHS. There is no doubt that every person who has similar interests will journey the same path that I have travelled. However, I believe that the pandemic has thrown different challenges at us all which we must cope with and overcome. Furthermore, extra strikes caused by the unexpected political turmoil in Myanmar have caused unpleasant experiences for me and made my journey all the more challenging.

My journey to the UK was full of excitement and joy. At the very start of 2020, I was offered a position as a medical doctor in the UK, which was my first-time acquiring a job overseas. To this day, I am still working. Unfortunately, I got stuck in Myanmar due to travel restrictions and lockdown caused by COVID-19. It was a nightmare for me. I was bound to my home due to the Myanmar Stay at Home policy and had nothing to do since I had already left my medical officer job at a private hospital in Myanmar. Despite the low number of cases in Myanmar at that time, I was terrified and saddened by the news, especially looking at the deadly tolls in England and Italy. Of course, this is a human’s innate reaction, but I felt guilty as a doctor because I could not help them during the crisis.

When lockdown in the UK was eased around September, I managed to travel only to be welcomed by a new two week-self isolation policy which was never in place before. Despite many challenges, I was really pleased to receive big and warm welcoming smiles form my hospital trust that had been patiently waiting for me. Then I could start my clinical job guarded by new covid rules and infection control precautions. I would never have imagined we would have to live with a new lifestyle of surviving skills brought about by global pandemic.

Undoubtedly, it is not easy for people like me who came from developing countries to learn and work in UK hospitals. Many practical hands-on training sessions, conferences and seminars were delayed and deferred for various reasons. For example, our new migrant doctors are finding it difficult to get a slot for simple things such as Advanced Life Support Accreditation. Luckily, some of them happened virtually and I am now immersed in online learning. Even with these ups and downs, I have managed to settle in but another mountain to climb is to apply for core medical training soon.

Being an international medical graduate, you have to face obstacles not only in your career but also in daily living, coping with different cultures and communication. Psychologically, you need to be proactive, enthusiastic and competitive. These are stressors in my daily life. More importantly, perception of your scale and abilities are questioned in a new working environment.

Upon all these, an unexpected event occurred on February 1st – a military coup in Myanmar. All the events that have happened in Myanmar have me in shock. This fills my days with worry, restlessness, insecurity and disorganisation. Killing, detaining civilians arbitrarily and restriction of internet access are unacceptable acts. As a result of the shut down and limited access to the internet, I have lost contact with my family, and the amount of news about Myanmar in international media has worsened my worries about my family. I have had thousands of sleepless nights over the last few weeks.

It is always difficult to stand for justice when it means sacrificing one’s own life, career and family. There have been many people including heath care professionals sacrificing their lives for freedom in Myanmar. Even though my support and help from abroad cannot be compared to what people on the ground are contributing, I offer it as a small contribution to save the country from injustice. As long as I have abilities and strength, I will keep walking on the path which I have chosen, not only for my career but also for justice.

I believe that if you have a desire, you must keep your focus on perseverance with the right attitude, so that you can gain wisdom. No matter how difficult the situation is, it will not last forever, and we can reach the destination one day.  

To learn more about our response to the military coup, please read the CGHP Statement.

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