Dr . Munjed AL Muderis
We have different colours, races and religions but we all have one blood colour.
We should treat people the way we want to be treated.
We spend short time in this world, so we should leave something good behind.
Dr . Munjed AL Muderis is a prosthetics surgeon. With an Iraqi nationality and a humanitarian identity, he has made great contributions not only to his career but also to the social work as an activist and a supporter of humanitarian issues. His arrival to Australia as a refugee as well as the success he has made, give a great example of determination and patience. There is no shade of doubt that “alfyaa magazine” was honored by interviewing him.
…*.Every serious person has a message in life. It starts with early signals from early childhood which
becomes the solid base for the launch of the journey. How was your experience and the successful step in your life and what is your message practically from the humanitarian point of view?
** From early childhood my father taught me a very important lesson. Though I was not brought up in a religious way, I was raised on a lot of good points from the old books of theology. One of the most important messages I heard from my father was “If a man dies, though they will be gone, they will leave behind three things. A charity that they can leave behind or a knowledge that people can learn from or bringing up good children that will carry their legacy”. From early childhood I wanted to fulfil these three messages. I want to leave a charity behind, a knowledge that people can learn from and I want to leave a legacy that people can carry afterwards. This is what makes me who I am and this is what I will continue to do for the rest of my life. That’s why I work very hard on doing charitable work and go around the world leading humanitarian missions. I also at the same time work hard on the physical work that I do with my job. I try to document everything I do whether it be in research or a new technique. I write medical and non-medical materials that may be helpful for people and may be used by other people to learn from. I teach generations, my own kids and generations of students and doctors that will hopefully carry the legacy and become teachers themselves in order to educate others and carry on the flag of education. To this day, I continue to strive day and night to achieve these goals.
…*.Your story is regarded as a great humanitarian story, not just Iraqi story. Can we know about your story that you challenged death and you left alone taking all the risks, running away from a dictatorship totalitarian regime in a leaky boat. Tell us about your journey, why did you leave, who was behind it and how did you get to Australia?
**After graduating from medical school, I managed to get on the training program as a junior doctor and never wanted to leave Iraq. I never thought about leaving the country. I was comfortable living in that country despite its problems. I don’t think anyone would want to leave their own homeland, especially the people that they grew up with, their surroundings, their family and their friends regardless of how tough the environment is. Not many people would want to leave these roots and migrate and then try to find another place, new family and new friends. However, in one day my life did just that. I was working at Baghdad University Hospital in the operating theatre when we were confronted with three busloads of army deserters escorted by republican guards and members of the Arab Ba’ath socialist party. The republican guards and the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party members came to us and ordered us to abandon the elective lists and start mutilating these army deserters that they brought with them by chopping part of their ears off under anaesthetics. The head of the department refused openly saying that this is against the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm. He was then dragged to the carpark in front of everybody, had a bullet fired in his head and executed him. They turned to the rest of us and they said “Anyone share this man’s view come forward otherwise proceed with our orders”. I faced the most difficult decision of my life, should I obey the commands and live with guilt for the rest of my life, should I refuse and end up with a bullet in my head or should I run away? From that moment my life changed. All of a sudden I became someone running away in fear of being captured by the Ba’ath Party members. I escaped from the hospital after spending five hours in the female toilets, it felt like five years. I went to the outskirts of Baghdad and with the help of family and friends, I was brought a large sum of cash and they provided me with a fake passport. They helped me to escape through the borders to Jordan from Iraq. From Jordan I had to go to Malaysia, then managed to get to Indonesia and then got on a leaky boat that was not seaworthy to Australia. I fell in the hands of people smugglers and these people have no mercy, but thanks to them they managed to get me on a boat to safety to Australia. The boat journey was horrific. We faced death every minute of that journey. We went through very rough seas and with the help of people smugglers we managed to get to Christmas Island. From Christmas Island we were taken by chartered planes to Curtin Detention Centre. The minute we entered the detention centre in Curtin we were stripped of our humanity. We were marked with numbers, my number was 982. I spent a year in the detention centre. I spent significant time inside the detention centre and significant time in prison. I was very outspoken. I asked about human rights and as a result of that I was singled out as a troublemaker so I had to spend some time in prison. There is a considerable difference between the prison system and the detention centre in Australia. Here, prison is regarded as heaven compared to the detention centre which felt like hell. In the detention centre we were treated very poorly. We were stripped of our human identity. We were called by numbers. We didn’t have any change of clothes. We were fed the same food day in and day out. While in prison, I was treated with dignity and with respect. I was given clean clothes and I was treated like a human being. After almost a year in the detention centre I was found to be genuine refugee and I was released on the side of the road outside of Curtin detention centre, with a temporary protection visa that allowed me to stay in Australia, without the ability to travel and return. My journey in Australia began on 26 August 2000. I always believed that having a job was an honour, so even in the detention centre I worked, the only job available to me was as toilet cleaner. I didn’t mind it; it was an honourable job like any other job. Once I was released from detention I looked into getting a job. I couldn’t accept living on Centrelink as I was capable to work, I tried to get my qualifications recognised so I looked for jobs as a doctor.
..*.in Australia your story started by a lot of trouble and difficulties to recognise your qualification and progress with your career an d the challenges due to the differences between the Iraqi style of life and the Australian style of life. What is your philosophy to excel in your education in society and in the humanitarian side of things?
**As soon as I left the detention centre, I was knocking on every door to find a job as a doctor. I went to Royal Perth Hospital and I asked the on-call doctor to get me a job. Obviously I didn’t know the process and I was told that I have to go and pick fruits, collect some money, pass the English exam test and then study for the qualification exam for medicine. Then, if I pass the exam I can then apply for a job. I went to Centrelink and I asked them for help. They taught me how to do it by the book and learn the system. It was the first time I ever learnt about a curriculum vitae. I filled my CV, spent the last of my cash on a computer, paper and ink and sent out my CV to every single hospital in Australia. Within two weeks I got two job interviews. I studied hard and tried to acclimatise with the system. I was offered both jobs and very quickly I learnt how to integrate with society and learnt the system. It is very clear that coming from a different culture with a different background, speaking a different language and having a strong accent makes me stand out as a foreigner with challenges. I had to prove myself to everybody. I had to prove myself to the patients that I am worthy of treating them. I had to prove myself to the nursing staff that I can treat patients. I had to prove myself to my peers that I am worthy of their trust and I am their equal. I have to prove to the medical administrators that I qualify for the job and I had to prove to the regulators that I have the qualification that should be recognisable. I worked hard, studied hard and passed all my exams. I learnt that if I want to compete and if I want to participate in the specialisations in a highly competitive field, then I have to work not twice, not three times, but ten times harder
than the locals in order to be accepted into the specialisation. This is exactly what I did. I don’t see this as discrimination or unfairness. It is very clear that I am an outsider, I don’t speak their language the right way, I didn’t go to the local schools or play rugby league like the others. It can only be fair that I work harder to prove that I am worth it and that I can be given the chance to prove myself, which I did. I excelled in my training and I graduated as a fully qualified orthopaedic surgeon in an exceptionally fast time. I passed all my exams and including my final exam first go and this is a testament to my hard work, dedication and determination. It’s a fight, it’s a tough fight, but it’s a fight that is worth it. One benefit of working ten times harder is that everything becomes very simple in a very ironic way. My philosophy about excelling in what you do is that if you work very hard and you work harder than everybody else, then even the most difficult challenge can become relatively easy. There is nothing that is impossible. All we need to do is to set a target, you focus on the target and you aim and you work hard to get there, and you will get there. It can only be achieved by hard work and dedication and a strong will.
…* Your specialisation in the surgical field requires very high standards of humanitarian standards and your mission to restore functionality for people who lost limbs or have significant deformities, whether it’s congenital or due to trauma or wars. How do you mix between the experience, knowledge, skills and your humanitarian goals?
**To be skilful in what you do, you need to have many talents. They should be a combination of knowledge, high level of education, high level of dexterity and skills which would be built with experience and a significant level of empathy towards the human beings that you treat. The more experience and knowledge that I gain, the more humble and the more humility I get. As human beings we all stay here on this earth for a very short period of time, we might as well utilise our time in the best way we can and leave this earth knowing that we have done some good.
…* You became a public figure due to your activities and your challenges fighting for your people and for their dignity. What is your mission in life? What is your interest in your public profile and how do you see the media in helping your mission in life?
**Being a public figure is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I ask myself the question about if I go back in time would I want to be a public figure or wouldn’t I? As part of my journey in this life I want to make a difference. I strongly believe that we can make a difference. The media has a massive role in influencing our lives and I have witnessed and faced both sides of the media, the good and the bad. I have been praised by the media and I have been slammed by the media unfairly. Every day I meet people who are very sceptical about what they hear and what they see on the news, and I meet people who believe everything they hear and they see in the news. I see a big advantage in having access to the wider public if we have a great invention, if we have a great idea and if we develop great technology that can be translated and this can be transmitted to the rest of the world very quickly by the force of the media. This can save a lot of time and can improve the lives a lot of human beings. It can help a lot of people. There is a great deal of advantage and benefit that the media can bring to the public. At the same time a lot of misinformation is there which can hinder progress, especially if it is material that can be used in a tabloid or in a sensationalised manner, which can be unfortunately used at the expense of science, innovation and can hinder progress. The media is a sharp sword with two edges.
…* Munjed Al Muderis, away from the activities at work and your public life, what are your day to day activities? What are your hobbies and do you write? Science, literature or any other activities?
**My day starts early, I wake up and see my kids and shower with them both, my two little ones. If I ever get to have a quick breakfast with them before I leave, I do my best to do that. I then start my day whether consulting or operating, seeing patients at the hospital. By sunset I go back home and I may or may not get to see the kids before they go to bed. I then spend some time with my partner talking about what happened during the day. The rest of the evening I spend either reading or writing, or both. The final hour or two of the evening I spend it playing chess internationally on the internet and then I go to sleep. On the weekend I tend to spend the day with my family, with the kids, either going out with my partner and the children to the local parks or spending time on Sydney Harbour on our boat. I enjoy travel around the world and I enjoy visiting new cities, learning new cultures, reading about the history of different places and learning about places that I visit. I lead a team of scientific researchers. We theorise new technologies, test theories on paper then investigate and challenge the cause and effect, once our theories are tested, we submit to regulators for implementation. Once the technology is implemented, we follow the results and publish the outcomes. This is how we apply science in our clinical practice safely. I wrote two books and have also participated in a children’s book that are outside medicine. I am now embarking on writing the fourth book about the politics of the medical fraternity.
….* Finally, what are your future plans here in Australia or in Iraq or anywhere around the world as you are known about your travel around the world to pass your message at work, humanitarian and wherever is needed around the world.
**My plan is to make the technology that I pioneered, which is called osseointegration surgery for amputees, to become the standard of care for people who have lost limbs. I hope that the day will come before I die that this technology will become available to people who need it the most, the people who cannot afford it, those living in developing countries where they have lost limbs who they don’t have access to the level of care that we have here in Australia. I am working very hard to achieve that goal where people all around the world that have lost limbs can have this technology available to them. This is one of the main goals that I want to achieve in Australia, in Iraq and around the world. I have been and will continue to establish centres around the world that provide this technology and I am in the process of building a centre in the Middle East, participate in a few centres in Europe and continue to grow the centres that we established in Iraq and other countries. With the current circumstances in the Ukraine I am willing to establish a strong collaboration with the Ukrainian medical fraternity, especially in Lviv and Kiev to help out the Ukrainian people who are victims of war, military and civilian. At the same time I will continue to visit Iraq on a regular basis to provide the care for the Iraqi people who suffered from injuries during the wars, helping as many people as possible, building the infrastructure and training the local medical fraternity so they can rely on themselves moving forward. Sadly, human beings tend to go into wars very frequently so I see there will always be a need for my expertise and specialty for the future to come. I will be there providing and offering my service whenever it is needed anywhere around the world as I don’t discriminate against any human being regardless of their race, colour or religion as I strongly believe that we are all proud about who we are and where we come from. We are allowed to be proud about who we are as long as we remember that if we cut our skin we are all going to bleed the same coloured blood and the world will be a better place if we treat each other the way we want to be treated.