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Man arrives homeless refugee, becomes surgeon at Northwick Park Hospital

“I am a dreamer and don’t believe in the impossible,” says Hani Abdul-Jabar explaining his extraordinary journey from teenage refugee to surgeon.

Hani fled sectarian violence in Iraq in 1995 making the harrowing month long journey alone across the Middle East and Europe in search of asylum in the UK.

His 5,000km mile journey by road, air and sea saw him follow a path still travelled by thousands of refugees every year fleeing conflict and persecution.

“I arrived here with nowhere to stay, no money, no friends and a basic grasp of the English language,” says the 42 year-old consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust.

“It was tough but my attitude has always been to work hard, never give up and make the best of every day.”

The 16 year-old initially lived in an asylum hostel in London juggling college with several part-time jobs including working as a handyman, a porter and kitchen assistant.

“Everyone in the hostel was in the same situation but many got stuck in the cycle of making ends meet through a succession of poorly paid manual jobs. It’s a hard trap to escape without education.”

Hani’s passion was aeronautics – the science of flight, but his school teacher said his nationality, name and refugee status was likely to attract unwanted scrutiny and suggested medicine as a possible career.

“It was a bolt out of the blue. I’d never considered myself ‘good’ enough to be a doctor in the UK but it is a decision I have never regretted.

Hani continued to hold down various jobs through medical school  including working as healthcare assistant, a tiler and cab driver before graduating from Imperial College of Medicine.

Northwick Park Hospital was my favourite place to work as a student, junior doctor and speciality trainee. Everyone was so friendly and I eventually came back.”

Hani’s medical specialism diagnoses and treats injuries to bones, joints and structures that help movement, such as ligaments, tendons and muscles. He has a particular interest in complex trauma around the hip and knee in addition to joint replacement surgery. He is also trauma lead for the hospital trust.

Hani added: “It’s a fascinating area to work, the caseload is so varied, and there is always something new to learn. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help people. I feel privileged and humbled to be in such position”.

Man arrives homeless refugee, becomes surgeon at Northwick Park Hospital Harrow Online
Hani aged 16. Credit: London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

So, what advice does he have for people starting out in life?

“Hard work, perseverance, honesty and respect for one another. It’s also important to physically look after yourself. I’ve always been active and enjoyed sports since a young age playing football at school and representing Iraq in tennis.

Hani has also been part of the medical team at Brentford Football Club since 2014 which is now competing in the Premiership League for the first time in the club’s history.”

He was finally reunited with his family in 2008.


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