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Doctor spent all his free time doing volunteer work

It is hard enough studying to become a medical doctor. But he also did a string of non-paid projects on the side while at university. So, we asked him, any advice?

It was not easy to get into university.

Howraman Meteran squeezed in to the University of Copenhagen by getting extra points through a whole load of volunteering and higher level courses. He taught English, Maths and German in middle schools and high schools. And there was more.

“I had a full-time job as a teacher, and worked at a nursing home at nights and weekends. Besides that I was studying, so sometimes I fell asleep on the train,” he explains to the University Post.

And once in, he didn’t hold back.

“Once I had been accepted and started university, it was difficult for me to say to myself ‘Ok, I got in, so now I can relax.’ I set the standard there, so it came very natural for me to do other stuff”.

If you squeeze in, you don’t drop out

The University Post had been tipped off that this guy had done something extraordinary. Now we sat down to talk to him at the Café Arabica in Nørrebro, the same neighbourhood as the Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Copenhagen.

For universities, someone like Howraman is a real asset. The people who volunteer for stuff are the ones who are the most motivated. And they are often the same people who are successful in their subjects. Squeezing in to university through extra points gained from projects and side work is a good thing.

“Those who enroll as I did have lower dropout rates; they finish med school,” says Howraman.

Reception to co-ordination

For Howraman, ties with organizations and volunteers groups from before his university days came in handy. School principals that Howraman met during his time teaching were subsequently brought in as consultants for projects he worked on, such as Sexekspressen, a sexual health awareness programme.

In one of his biggest volunteer involvements, with Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors without Borders, Howraman quickly rose from receptionist to a coordinator role.

“The first couple of months I worked in the reception. Picking up the phone, collecting lunch, biking to embassies. I really like logistics, so a year later I got to be responsible for a big five-day meeting,” he recalls.

Father: It is up to you

It was originally his family’s experiences as Kurds in Iran that provide the incentive to be actively involved with Médecins Sans Frontières.

“My grandfather stepped on a land mine, and it was Doctors without Borders who helped him,” he says.

Arriving in Denmark as refugees, Howraman and his family quickly adapted to a new life.

“My father told me and my sister very early why we moved so that now it was up to us. We felt that the least we could do was to work hard.”

Advice: Spend first year contemplating

For Howraman , his consistent openness to new experiences, has required sacrifices, he admits.

“I wasn’t good at saying ‘no’ in the beginning. There were periods when I didn’t have time to see family, friends or girlfriends. But the friends I made were ones who were involved in the same activities. Attending a seminar meant having to take a week off work, but it also meant I got to see fifteen good friends.”

The lifestyle of the volunteer is demanding, and even someone as motivated as Howraman has to step back once in a while and take a breather.

“My sister is also a medical student. It’s a generation where they start talking about research a lot earlier than we did. I told her to spend the first year getting to know herself as a university student. It’s ok to be tired of studying sometimes, to have fun.”

Passion into necessity

The initial period of contemplation and adaptation is vital, given the competitiveness and demands that future years entail.

“The advice I got after my first year was to be open, not to let opportunities go. In the past, if you were doing medicine, you were pretty much guaranteed a job and could choose whatever speciality you wanted. These days, with new rules, a lot of people have to do things not because they want them, but because they are necessary.”

This is not pessimism from Howraman. He believes in allowing for coincidences and injecting passion into necessities. He came to own field of specialization, Respiratory Diseases, almost by chance.

He is now a PhD student in respiratory diseases at Bispebjerg hospital.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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