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Interview with founder of PHARMiON - Damir Vukoja MD

November 25, 2020.

Damir Vukoja is the founder of the first student section at the School of Medicine, University of Mostar. A year after completing his student career and gaining his medical degree (MD), we talked with Damir about his newly acquired title, work in the profession, student activism and his plans for the future.



1. At the very beginning of this interview, I would like to congratulate you on your newly acquired title of Physician and as a current member of PHARMiON I would like to say that you have set the bar very high for every upcoming CEO. Back to the interview, could you single out some of the challenges you faced after completing your integrated medical studies?
Thank you for those nice words Ana. Well, for starters, there were no major challenges and I would say that there are usually none for fresh medical graduates in our area, since they are still needed in the health care system, if nothing else, then at least in smaller primary health care institutions. For me personally, the choice was not difficult, because I already knew I would like to work in family medicine and what the current job offers were so I just needed to choose one that was as achievable as possible and start working.
2. Could you describe for us what happens in the period between the thesis defense and the university promotion?
So the first step is to pass the professional / state exam so that you can get a license to work, and thus start working, or legally practice medicine. Most graduates do this within a month of thesis defense and taking the exam is not that difficult since it requires basic knowledge in medicine (professional part of the exam) and the legal part, which I would say would gave us all some headaches. After taking the exam, i.e. obtaining a work license, you can start working as a general practitioner. That usually starts with volunteering in the workplace for which you've opted and usually you can get the opportunity for employment in a month or two. During this period, the process of applying for a membership in the appropriate medical association or medical chamber (if you will) is initiated, after which you are awarded with your own official seal. This makes you completely independent in your work. Keep in mind you will start often with the consultation and mentorship of colleagues who have been working there for a while longer. So, be nice.
In my case, tis process was a bit different because I had previously made two exchanges for the end of my final year of study, one professional and one scientific, so I had to postpone the thesis defense for the end of the deadline and go through all of this much later than most other of my colleagues. Despite that, I do not regret it at all and I am glad that I gained these professional experiences, and I do not fell that I have missed out on anything even with a slightly later start of practicing medicine.
3. How does one decide on which department and in which health institution the internship will take place?
Decisions on this issue are individual and mostly depend on the professional preferences of each of us, someone's ambitions for the future, place of residence and the experiences we have from colleagues who started working somewhere earlier. I think these are crucial factors.
4. Could you say something more about your internship and preparation for the state exam?
To build up on what I have said earlier, there is a time period that is needed for a satisfactory preparation for the exam, and I would say that period can take up about 2 weeks. Luckily, there are exam preparation materials which makes the whole process much easier.
As for the internship, I started an internship at the Health Care Center after about a month of volunteering there. In this particular Health Care Center, general practitioners usually work the first shift emergency medicine and in parallel, over time "run ins". This is how they gain experience and practice in emergency medical care, which they will need when they start working later on. I think and confirm that this is an excellent model for gaining broad experience, knowledge and practice for a young doctor, regardless of his plans for a later career.
5. What do you think would be the shortcomings of education; that is, what would you liked that someone had told you before you started working?
The theoretical part of education is good and we get a good foundation of medical knowledge needed to work by studying. The problem may be the insufficient number of hours of practicing this knowledge before starting work, especially when it comes to the use of OTC preparations, which are an important part of many therapies, without getting to know them well enough while studying. In addition, it takes some time to "grasp" the basic protocol and administrative processes that are specific to each job, but they are mostly "learned" while volunteering in that job, so you should not bother with it ahead of time.
6. Can you tell us an anecdote from work, something that is permanently etched in your memory? Have you had any interesting cases?
Pfffff, of course, there is a lot to talk about, but I’ll mention just a few of them. The most interesting, that is, the funniest, are the small protocol "mistakes" that you make in your work at a certain speed and lack of attention, mostly in writing in the form of "lapsus calami". So, I issued a referral to another patient in the name of another person, when referring a child to pediatrics I wrote that I prescribed half an ampoule of Ventolin instead of half a milliliter, then to a patient with trauma, I issued a referral addressed to the Department of Pathology instead of EMC, then the referral to University hospital as suspected concussion (" commotio cerebri ”) in a child was written to be suspected of“ contusio cerebri ”, in a patient with hand trauma I wrote that he has a suspected fracture of metatarsal bones instead of metacarpal bones, a child with a finger injury was given a radiology referral for radiology for X-ray pulmo et cor “...
Most of them were of course at the beginning, but they still happen now and it is funny to remember that I wrote incorrectly a patient referral which I figured out later when the patient was already on the road or even arrived at the wrong place *laughs*. Such situations are always the subject of laughter and jokes with colleagues because such things happen to all of us, so we are always happy to tell each other our newest "achievements". Besides, there was and there is, of course, everything else that is mentioned in the question, but there is so much material that it could be a whole story for itself.
7. How did student activism help you after graduation?
In short, significantly. Many acquaintances gained in this way are still active, developing and expanding and always give birth to something good, something new, additional opportunities etc. In addition, a lot of knowledge and skills for that are currently useful to me, I gained through these projects.
8. Have you continued your scientific training and in what way?
For now, of course, like most colleagues, I like to keep up to date with some interesting scientific events that have recently been mostly online. I am still working on some scientific projects I started while still studying, and in the meantime I have been engaged in some new ones. Recently, I have been working as an external associate on a multidisciplinary research project in the field of biomedicine at the University of Zagreb, which is especially flattering to me.
9. What are your future plans?
More or less the plan is to start with a specialization in the desired medical branch in the near future, and then I would like to start with the doctoral studies. Next, we will see...
10. And finally, what would you say to your younger colleagues?
Since they have chosen this profession which is more of a vocation than a job, I would like to tell them to be "full of heart" and maximally active and engaged during their studies in order to get the most out of it, because that is what will definitely determine their future careers and themselves.

Damir, thank you for your time. -Thank you for the interview.

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