Hadassah Medical Center is internationally acclaimed as one of the outstanding hospitals in the world. It is at the leading edge of excellence in healing, caring, teaching and is at the forefront of research in many fields. Hadassah hospital has been widely praised for its policy of practising medicine without borders. The hospital has been a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee for its compassionate care of all patients regardless of ethnicity or religion.

The Valda Knight Memorial Scholarship is awarded by the New Zealand chapter of Hadassah International in memory of its first President. The underlying purpose of the scholarship is to provide a New Zealand Health sector worker or student with a special opportunity for professional development and growth and personal enrichment, including at least two days liaising with colleagues at Hadassah Hospital.

The 2019 recipient of the scholarship was Wei-Lyn Chung, who was awarded her medical degree from the University of Ireland in 2011 concurrently with a Bachelor of Medical Science (Hons). She worked in hospitals in Ireland and moved to New Zealand in 2013 to begin her speciality in anaesthesia. She has taken many post-graduate courses and is now registered with the New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.

Dr Chung reports on her experience in Israel during June, when she undertook the scholarship:

My first visit to Israel, as a tourist in 2018, was a truly eye-opening experience. I knew it would not be my last trip there, so I am very honoured and grateful to be awarded this scholarship. It enabled me to undertake a visit back to the country which combines my long-standing curiosity in the culture and history of Israel with my professional interests in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine.

The first week of my observership began with a guided tour of the hospital campus and Abell Synagogue, home to the twelve stunning stained-glass windows, a priceless gift painted by the eminent Russian Jewish painter Marc Chagall, depicting the twelve tribes of Israel. Four of the original panes were damaged by shrapnel during the Six-Day War, and Chagall generously replaced them as the country reeled from the aftermath of the violence.

I also had the opportunity to listen to the narrative of Hadassah’s history, from its humble beginnings in New York under the direction of Henrietta Szold, to its key role in establishing healthcare in then-Ottoman Palestine and, now, modern-day Israel. One can only stand in awe of the remarkable achievements Hadassah has made since it was first established – especially for an organisation run mainly by women at a time in history where  womens’ rights were significantly lacking even in regions that are traditionally seen to be progessive, such as Western Europe. Recounting Hadassah’s rich story, it was only appropriate that we take a moment to remember the lives of more than 70 innocent staff and patients who died in an ambush on Mount Scopus during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

The clinical observership began at the General Intensive Care Unit, where I had the opportunity to shadow the attendings, fellows and residents on duty. Whilst the medical procedures and management plans were largely the same as what is practised in New Zealand, what really struck me was how the added complexity of patients’ varying cultural and religious requirements were treated with equal and utmost respect and dignity by the medical and nursing staff in attendance. The medical team itself consisted of professionals at various levels of training, including quite a few Palestinian Arab doctors and nurses who were undertaking their training in this world-class institution. It was clear that everyone was able to put any cultural, ideological or religious differences aside in order to work cohesively in the best interests of the patients they were looking after. I was particularly impressed that non-Jewish healthcare professionals are also given the opportunity to benefit from Hadassah’s world-class facilities and training before bringing those skills back to their respective communities.

My second week was spent in the Operating Theatres, shadowing anaesthesiologists as they cared for various patients undergoing elective and emergency surgery. Here, the operating theatres are housed underground in a secure complex that will allow emergency surgery to continue in the event of war. The facility was well-planned and spacious; I almost forgot I was four floors below ground. The operating theatres and recovery area are generously equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. The recovery unit occasionally functions as an overflow facility for intensive care unit beds if required, something that is not commonly done in New Zealand due to resource limitations which means that when the intensive units back home are full, elective surgeries end up being cancelled. Family members are also catered for in a comfortable area with a large display screen that tracks the patients’ perioperative journey and allows family members stay easily informed about their relatives’ progress – something that would certainly do a little to help with what is understandably a frightening and anxious time for most patients and their families.

I was eager to exchange ideas with some colleagues at Hadassah on how we can learn from each other experiences in order to provide the best care for our patients. Coincidentally, one of the senior nurses in Hadassah’s ICU was looking into setting up a Patient-At-Risk/Critical Care Outreach nurse service, something that is well-established in my institution in New Zealand. I am privileged to have been able to offer her some advice and resources, and link her with some of my colleagues back home who have been instrumental in instituting this programme in our hospital. In New Zealand we are also fortunate to benefit from a robust and vigorous training programme for anaesthesia with numerous resources available to trainees sitting major exams; I was able to disseminate these resources to some of the trainees in Hadassah in order to aid them in their academic preparation.

My trip was short as I was due to return to New Zealand after two weeks. Fortunately, I managed to tick a few things off the to-do list from my previous visit. Some of these highlights include spending Shabbat dinner with a local religious family, making new-found local friends who coincidentally have personal links to New Zealand, a guided tour of the Knesset (an insight into Israel’s democracy, and which I found to be particularly relevant and interesting given the country’s current political situation) and a visit to the Kotel tunnels and Temple Mount.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the various people who made my visit possible – especially Yael Baklor Kahn (Hadassah), Atilla Gulyas (Hadassah), the skilled teams of Professor Reuven Pizov (Anaesthesia) and Professor Peter van Heeren (Intensive Care) and Tanya Hart (Hadassah New Zealand).  I am also indebted and grateful to the family of Valda Knight who generously provided for this scholarship via Hadassah New Zealand.Wei-lyn Chung