April 6, 2020

“The most valuable lessons in EYP are those unwritten on post-its and not discussed in a General Assembly” – a conversation with EYP alumni, who work in the field of medicine

Dimitra’s first international session in Granada, 1998

We had the opportunity to talk to EYP alumni who work in the field of medicine. We asked them how they have carried on the EYP spirit, as well as their professional opinions on the COVID-19 pandemic.  

  • Dimitra Panteli (GR) is a senior research fellow and coordinator at the Department of Health Care Management at Technische Universität Berlin – first session in 1998,
  • Stamos Tahas (GR) is a veterinary officer at the Zoological Society of London – first session in 2005,  
  • Christiane Kraus (AT) a doctor in internal medicine – first session in 2007,
  • Caoimhe Ní hÉalaithe (IE) is an undergraduate between a medical student and a junior doctor – first session in 2012.   

How have you carried on the EYP spirit in your current job?  

Dimitra: We are an academic center for health systems research, and one of the most important tools is looking at practices in different countries and trying to identify what might work best to address current challenges. To achieve this, we work with an extensive network of experts in Europe and beyond. Trust, open-mindedness and the ability to reconcile different viewpoints are paramount, along with understanding the potential of cross-country co-operation… sound familiar? 

Stamos at a Euroconcert in Helsinki, 2010

Stamos: I always found the term ‘EYP spirit’ very difficult to define. I think the people I agreed with most on what the ‘EYP spirit’ is are the ones I am still in touch with and who have proven to be valuable friends in time of need. In a sense I see the EYP spirit as being collaborative and enthusiastic, accepting compromises and trying to make this world a better place.  

Christiane: EYP has taught me so much, e.g. to lead discussions, to speak up, to travel, how diverse Europe is, the difference between formal, informal and smart casual clothing… 

Caoimhe: The most valuable lessons in EYP are those unwritten on post-its and not discussed in a General Assembly. My university class was 50% Irish students, and 50% international students. The diversity brought to our learning was incredible as a result, but often meant that people with the same university-education approached the same problem with totally different ethical, religious and cultural backgrounds. EYP gives you an understanding and natural sensitivity towards differing cultures without you ever consciously having to learn and observe it.  

What are the most valuable lessons and skills you learned from EYP? 

Caoimhe presenting her research at the International Stillbirth Alliance, 2019

Dimitra: The most important principle I embraced during my years as an EYPer is the ideal of working for the present and the future, thinking of ways to make things better based on our best knowledge right now – for everyone. EYP prepared me for public speaking in the international context, be it at academic conferences, at policy dialogues or while teaching. Back then, it meant putting in quite a bit of effort to keep up with the native speakers… I’m very grateful for it now! 

Stamos: EYP prepared me well for working within a multicultural team as well as accepting feedback and constructive criticism on my work. 

Christiane: The friendships I made in EYP still remain. It is a really strong network plus it is good to not only have friends in medicine… 

Caoimhe: The method of team-building used by EYP provides you with an ability to settle into a new team quickly, gain the trust of teammates or colleagues, and arguably most importantly, facilitate others to do the same. After years of EYP sessions and training events, it is now second nature to me in my professional career.  

Stamos performing an ophthalmic exam of a red panda

EYP is the very best training you could ask for in learning to facilitate discussions, balance voices in the room, ensure key points get across, gain a group consensus, and clearly summarise what has been discussed. 

What is your role as a medical expert working against the pandemic? 

Dimitra: We are currently working on COVID-19 in two ways: we are collecting data on the shape of the pandemic in different countries, particularly regarding the use of health system resources (how many tests are carried out, how many patients are hospitalized, how many patients are in intensive care) to be able to predict future use and aid countries in capacity planning. At the Department, we are one of the research centers of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and we are helping to set up an international health policy monitor specifically on the pandemic, mapping how countries have reacted to the challenge, to enable cross-country learning. You can take a look here: https://www.covid19healthsystem.org/  

Stamos: At the current time my team and I are continuing to safeguard the health of the animals under our charge. We are also keeping a vigilant eye for any similar symptoms in our animals and are cooperating with zookeepers and management to minimize the risk of cross-species transmission. Most recent pandemics (SARS, MERS etc) have an animal reservoir so at some stage a veterinary professional will be involved in research on the origins of COVID-19. 

Caoimhe: I am due to start work in the next fortnight as a junior doctor here in Ireland. This is about 10 weeks ahead of our scheduled start date, due to COVID-19. We will be joining our colleagues on the frontline of this pandemic, and while we feel a little apprehensive about the earlier-than-planned start, we also feel quite ready. It’s what we’ve been preparing to do for the last 5 years or so.  

 Dimitra speaking at the European Health Forum Gastein, 2018

What is your opinion on wearing masks?  

Christiane: I believe covering mouth and nose for example with a scarf, surgical mask or self-made mask reduces airborne-infections of the people around you if you can’t keep the distance. 

What are the most constructive ways for young people to fight against COVID-19?  

Dimitra: I think there are two very important areas that young people should really be engaged in. One is  holding politicians accountable for the management of the current crisis and for mid-and long-term commitment to investing in social structures and health system preparedness to ensure better responses in the future. The other, and I think this is where EYP can actively function as a platform, is thinking outside the box for solutions to the many challenges this pandemic brings with it, from immediate, such as the procurement of protective equipment for health care workers but also the rise in domestic violence, to longer-term, such as the impact on the economy and the exacerbation of social inequalities. 

Stamos: Be patient and empathetic with the people you live with. Call your friends and family (use your voice, don’t only text!). I think youth have an important role to play, especially in staying creative and connected during this period of social isolation. 

Christiane: Different countries used different approaches, but finally leading to the recommendation of self-isolation and a shut down. We are just getting to know the new coronavirus. So what everyone should do is: stay at home (if possible) and take basic hygiene measures. 

Caoimhe at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children

Caoimhe: The executive director of emergency programmes at the World Health Organisation, Dr Michael Ryan, has said “None of us are safe until all of us are safe”. This means that every individual has a duty of care. People talk about the ‘frontline staff’ in hospitals – we are not the frontline of this battle. The frontline is everyone else.  

Help us to flatten this curve. See you all on the other side – safe, healthy, and hopefully in a world spinning on a more kind, considerate axis.  

I will leave you with the words of a famous Irish poet, Seamus Heaney;  

“If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere”