Dr Omran S Habib, Msc Community Health in Developing Countries (1981) and PhD (1985) told us why London was a place to reshape the future of a junior doctor from Iraq.
Prior to studying at the School, Omran trained as a Medical Doctor in Iraq, graduating from Basrah Medical College in 1977. As a new graduate, he was very ambitious and vivacious as he looked towards the future with confidence and high expectations, although at the time he had not decided which career path to pursue. Within a couple of months of graduating from medical school, it was evident to him that he would be well suited to pursuing a career in public health, hence he joined the Department of Public Health, Preventive and Social Medicine in Iraq, which he told us was a big title in an “evolving socialist guided country”.
Eighteen months later Omran was nominated to join a masters and doctorate study abroad cohort in London. “It was a big challenge for a junior doctor like myself, who was raised entirely in remote rural areas, to move to one of the biggest urban centres in the world with all its unknown challenges. On September 9 1980 I arrived to London, where I was astonished by the scenery and scenarios, this moment was a turning point in my life, as it was then that I decided to take the first step towards becoming a competent, respected and recognized epidemiologist in Iraq.”
From September 9 1980 until March 3 1985, Omran worked hard to complete his postgraduate studies in order to return to Basrah with something distinct from other colleagues. “I realized at that time and in line with the advice from my scientific research supervisor that one should be strong in one aspect of academic work.” Omran followed this advice, specialising in epidemiology and evaluation of performance.
The effect of the Iraq-Iran war proved to be the main challenge Omran faced while studying at the School. “As government-sponsored students we were afraid of our sponsorship being halted. People at LSHTM were very helpful and friendly. I remember Professor Bradley, Professor Patrick Vaughan, Professor G. Ross, Miss Bates (the Registrar), Dr Godfrey Walker, Professor Anne Mills, the people in the library and so many others.”
After graduating from the School in March 1985, Omran left London and returned to Iraq where he immediately joined the Basrah Medical College, University of Basrah as a Lecturer. Omran worked in this role until 1989 when he was promoted to Assistant Professor and later to Professor of Epidemiology and Health Care in 1995, a role that he proudly works in to date.
In addition to teaching on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and supervising 73 postgraduate candidates over the course of his career, Omran is also a very active researcher, publishing circa 74 papers and 11 books; a large amount of his research has focused on cancer in Basrah and Iraq. Omran was also a member of the Basrah University Council from 2003 to 2009 and a member of the Iraqi Cancer Board from 2008 to 2015.
When Omran left London in 1985, he anticipated that he would revisit the city every now and then, something he calls “a vain dream” as he was unable to visit until April 2004 due to the outbreak of war in Iraq and economic sanctions. Omran’s short visit in 2004 was arranged by the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. “The trip was short yet engaging enough to take a few photos to remember the fascinating scenes of the city and the amazing cultural diversity.” He had the opportunity to visit London again in November 2013, when he was nominated along with other colleagues by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Iraq, to study for one month at Imperial College London. “This visit to London for me was a nice [opportunity] to relax, interact and look forward to future occasions to visit, which all started with my studies at LSHTM on September 9 1980.” “Having studied in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is an honour for an Iraqi scholar who sustained very harsh years.”
Omran ended by saying “The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and all its staff, remains in my heart. During my studies in this respectable institution, I learnt how to be confident, ambitious and look towards the future with hope; London really reshaped the future of a junior Iraqi doctor”.
Images courtesy of Dr Omran S Habib
Feature image: London, 1981 – taken while doing postgraduate studies, Dr Omran S Habib (in the middle) with four other Iraqi PhD candidates
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