Syrian refugee graduates as a doctor in London after 10 years and four countries in medical school

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A refugee from Syria has graduated as a doctor in London 10 years, four countries and 21 homes after first starting medical school.

Dr Tirej Brimo, 27, was congratulated by Mayor Sadiq Khan at his graduation from St George’s, University of London. He wants to specialise in emergency medicine or trauma surgery.

Dr Brimo said: “Now I know what pain is, I am so ready to start my new role as a doctor and I am so ready to look after others’ loved ones. I promise I will do it with a heart full of love and a smile full of hope.”

Dr Brimo started medical school at the age of 17 in Aleppo, Syria, but the civil war broke out in 2011 and he was forced to flee 10 months before finishing the six-year course. He crisscrossed the Middle East via Lebanon, became separated from his family and spent time in Egypt, where he twice tried to finish his course but had to leave.

He made it to the UK four years ago and applied to every medical school in the country to fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor. He was rejected by most because of differences in the courses. Some suggested he retake his A-levels. 

However, St George’s offered him a place after interviewing him and he was allowed to start the five-year course in the third year. Dr Philippa Tostevin, the university’s medicine course director and reader in surgical education, said: “I interviewed Tirej when he applied to St George’s and I did not hesitate to offer him a place. I remember the passion for medicine that he demonstrated at that interview and I am so proud of what he has achieved. I am truly delighted to see him graduate this year.”

Dr Brimo, whose mother, brother and sister have since made it to Britain, told the Standard: “I have learnt that the UK is a fair place. If you put the effort in you get a result. I feel attached to the British community. It welcomed me, gave me love and believed in me. 

“I feel attached to [Syria and the UK] and want to contribute to both of them. One day I might go somewhere where there is war because I understand how difficult it is to lose everything at once, and how important it is to have someone be compassionate towards you. But that wouldn’t compromise the love I feel towards the British community.”

Dr Brimo’s graduation ceremony was held four years to the day after he applied for asylum in Croydon. He said: “To move from a moment of non-trust where your fingerprints are being taken, to a moment where you are not only trusted, but trusted with people’s lives and health, is an honour and a big responsibility. I am so proud.”

Dr Brimo paid for his studies by working as a phlebotomist at Croydon University Hospital and also had a student loan. He is now working as a junior doctor at County Hospital in Stafford. Speaking about his time as a refugee, he said: “I still remember the way I cried when I first realised that everything was lost and I became just a number. We all became numbers — it was not only me.”

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