Pre-departure Training in Paris – Welcome to MSF
How does MSF / Doctors without Borders prepare new staff for life in a medical emergency? Paediatrician Mark is about to start working for MSF in Liberia, and shares his experience...
A short hop across the channel and I’m in Paris joined by an incredibly diverse bunch of first-time MSFers. There are doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, logisticians, physiotherapists, psychologists, translators, administrators and communication specialists from France, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, Japan, India, Iran and Iraq.
Despite the different backgrounds, there is great camaraderie and a shared enthusiasm for what lies ahead. At least three of us embarrassingly admit that it was an episode from medical TV drama, ER set in the Congo that first planted the idea of working for MSF.
Photo: Mark Lee / MSF.
I’m constantly reminded that my terrible schoolboy French has stereotyped me as a monolinguistic Brit. Thankfully, this training is all in English! Perhaps it’s time to brush up on my French though…
The first five days of training are an opportunity to learn about the history, structure and principles of MSF. There are team building exercises, mock missions, security scenarios, ethical dilemmas, crash courses on epidemiology, creating a staff roster, giving individual feedback and plenty of questions for the facilitators who have a vast cumulative experience between them, having done multiple missions in the last couple of decades.
Photo: Mark Lee / MSF
The second part of training is specific to the medical team and involves more in depth scenarios such as setting up a blood transfusion programme, how to organise disposal of different types of medical waste and triage in mass casualty incidents.
Some of us have already been allocated a posting, but only a handful of those are leaving directly from Paris to their project – me included. This means attempting to fit my life for the next six months into a bag weighing less than 23kg.
· Is a solar charger more or less necessary than that second pair of jeans?
· I need to take some packages from headquarters in Paris to the mission in Liberia.
· Most importantly, I have to pack some luxuries to make the best first impression with the team already there – chocolate, cheese and wine. (One of the doctors going to South Sudan has packed a playstation – you have to admire his optimism given the lack of consistent electricity!)

Photo: Mustafa Malik Al-Ajeeli / MSF

My take-home messages from training:
1. Every question you could possibly ask is followed by the answer - ‘It depends’
2. Stress is a normal response
3. You are not going to save the world
Best of luck to all my fellow first-time MSFers who are off imminently to Nigeria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Djibouti, Haiti, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq.
Trainee selfie!
PPD selfie! Photo: Mark Lee / MSF