October 31, 2019

Coming home to Northern: The journey of Dr Fidel Touma

Fidel Touma is a Consultant General Surgeon here at Northern Hospital. Fidel says everyone he works with are very helpful. “They are like friends – brothers and sisters helping everyone.”

“They always have time for my questions about the health system. I feel part of a big family here at the Northern,” says Fidel.

Family has always been a big consideration for Fidel. It is the reason he left his home country of Syria for Australia, arriving here on 1 July 2014.

Prior to joining Northern Health, Fidel served as Director of Surgery of the Assuqaylabiyah National Hospital in the province of Hama in Syria, and Head of the Laparoscopic Units in many other hospitals. Fidel was the pioneer of laparoscopic surgery (keyhole surgery) in his province, starting with laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) and extending to other laparoscopic operations.

“It gave me a very good life – I didn’t want to leave,” says Fidel of those heady days.

That was until the war in 2011 destroyed everything. Fidel recalls how people had to start thinking of safety and food and basic requirements, instead of advancing their skills.

“Everything was in short supply – resources were limited and we had only the basics and that too only for emergency situations.”

After three years of war, Fidel started looking for a safe resort for his family to start a new life.

Initially, the family found it hard settling in Australia. His children were too young to comprehend what was happening and found learning a new language a big barrier.

“Everybody we contacted regarding my recognition as a surgeon here was not optimistic,” says Fidel. They suggested he might have to start the surgical program again from scratch. However, as part of a career guidance course (SLPET) at Melbourne Polytechnic Preston, Fidel was able to get a two week observership at Northern Hospital in mid 2015.

“Everyone was very kind and ‘human’ at the Northern– I use this word because I started feeling at home and everyone was helpful and supportive,” Fidel says.

“Wanda Stelmach (Divisional Director of Surgery) was amazing – she extended my observership by another two weeks.”

“From our first contact with Fidel, it was obvious that he was a very experienced surgeon, but he did not advertise this outright. It was from his considered comments and suggestions that this experience became obvious,” says Wanda.

“His approach to the opportunities that were given to him was humble and, as his training was recognised, and when he finally gained FRACS (Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons), his true personality started to shine,”  she says.

After his interview with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in October 2015, Fidel was deemed to be substantially comparable to Australasian surgeons and waived any further exit fellowship exams. After that, he immediately got his first job here as an International Medical Graduate General Surgery Fellow.

It was about this time Fidel started dreaming again – daring to believe he could build a career at Northern Health.

“To me, this was a crucial part and key step of my journey, that put me on track again to restore my career. I started thinking and dreaming of a new pathway with lots of achievements and loving life again!”

Fidel, as it turned out, fitted in very well at Northern.

“He is always willing to engage with the care of patients, with the education of colleagues, registrars and medical students and with the activities of the health service,” continues Wanda.

“His love for his family is truly obvious as he proudly describes the achievements of his wife, son and daughter – you get the feeling they outshine his own amazing achievements! Fidel really exemplifies the attributes of the migrants that are the backbone of the northern suburbs.”

Fidel has the final say, “I love to work in this hospital. This kind of collegial environment you can’t find anywhere else – I feel very much at home!”