Academic life

"Dare to try something. You never know what will come of it!"

Interview with MHH student Mikal Obed about scholarships, studying medicine and migration.

MHH student and scholarship holder Mikal Obed. Copyright: Carolin Korth/MHH

Stand: 21. Juni 2021

Today, Monday, MHH student Mikal Obed meets the Federal Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, to talk to her about funding opportunities through Studienwerke. The Avicenna-Studienwerk has invited the medical student as a scholarship holder to this discussion. It is Germany's youngest organisation for the promotion of gifted students and supports particularly gifted and socially committed Muslim students of all disciplines. The student of the Hannover Medical School (MHH) is also supported by the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes) and, from November, by the Biomedical Education Program (BMEP) during a research stay. We talked to her about her studies, her interview with the minister and the opportunities she has received through the scholarships.

Question: Ms Obed, you are a student at the MHH, studying medicine in the 10th semester in the HannibaL model course, and you are receiving three kinds of funding: from the Avicenna-Studienwerk, from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (German National Academic Foundation) and from November you will receive funding from the Biomedical Education Program (BMEP) and go to Toronto (Canada) as a research fellow, where you will be allowed to conduct research at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, the largest paediatric research centre in the world. Would you describe yourself as an high flyer?

Answer: (laughs) Oh, I certainly wouldn't call myself that. Of course, I am very happy about the scholarships and my upcoming stay abroad, but behind that, of course, there are also attempts that failed or did not succeed right away. That's why I'm very grateful that I met great mentors at the MHH during my studies who supported me in everything and still do.

Question: Did you still have time for hobbies besides your studies?

Answer: Yes, absolutely! The first years of medical school are very demanding, but as time goes on, you learn how important it is to continue to pursue leisure activities alongside your studies. My hobbies are incredibly fun and provide me with the time off that you simply need to stay balanced.

Question: As a scholarship holder of the Avicenna Studienwerk, you are meeting the Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek today. How did you prepare for this interview?

Answer: I thought about what has particularly concerned me personally in my studies so far. I also discussed with my fellow scholarship holders what is particularly close to their hearts. The focus of the conversation, however, is primarily on the opportunities that were opened up to me through the funding.

Question: What were the possibilities?

Answer: These include, for example, the regional group meetings of the scholarship holders, which we can organise independently. At some point, I decided to invite Dr Nagoud Schukfeh, senior physician from the Department of Paediatric Surgery at the MHH, to one of these meetings as a lecturer. This lecture about her professional and personal career in paediatric surgery excited me so much at the time that I applied for a block internship and a clinical traineeship directly after the lecture. This is how I discovered paediatric surgery for myself and this is also how I met Professor Dr Jens Dingemann, who is also a senior physician in paediatric surgery at the MHH. His competent supervision and personal commitment made the research stay and the funding from the BMEP possible for me. And that's the beauty of these grants. At some point you are no longer a scholarship holder, but the encounters from this time have such a decisive influence on your personal career that the funding will always leave its mark on your CV. And if things go well, the relationships may last a lifetime.

Question: You have a migration background yourself. Did that make it "harder" for you to study medicine?

Answer: The fact that ethnic origin still has a significant influence on educational success in Germany is a very regrettable part of our German educational reality. This did not make my studies "harder" per se, but of course people with a migration background will face additional challenges in an already very demanding course of study. These difficulties, though usually subtle, are often disproportionate and simply intolerable. You do your best, show commitment in the clinic and perform very well - and yet you encounter systemic resistance here and there and then simply feel the discrepancy with other students. That is of course frustrating in the long run.

Question: What motivated you to keep going?

Answer: Fortunately, there are a lot of great lecturers, professors and doctors who appreciate and encourage talent and commitment, and who are very committed to supporting their students in their personal, professional and academic development.

Question: What did you particularly like about the HannibaL model course in Hannover?

Answer: Patient contact in the first year of study is quickly taken for granted. Looking back, however, I realise that this is really a very special didactic concept. The rare disease patterns from my first weeks at the MHH are still very present in my mind because we were not only confronted with factual knowledge back then, but with real patients' fates. That moved us and kept us busy, and of course something like that stays in your mind for a long time.

Question: As a scholarship holder, what would you like to say to Federal Minister Anja Kaliczek at her meeting today?

Answer: It is important to maintain a lively exchange with the students, after all, our generation is laying the foundation for the future today. That's why communication with university administrations is usually not enough. Politicians should seek dialogue with us in order to understand the challenges we face every day from a student perspective. Last but not least, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the representation of young Muslim women in medicine and science by talking to the Federal Minister.

Question: If you had three wishes for what medical studies should look like in the future, what would be important to you?

Answer: An intensive and realistic preparation for professional life at a university hospital really includes that one already deals with the customs of scientific work during one's studies and that it is included in the curriculum. Studying is not always easy. Therefore, my second wish would be that we, as future doctors, collectively create structures that facilitate access to counselling centres and protect against stigmatisation. The third point - and this is particularly close to my heart - is that I would like us at our German universities to speak out together for diversity and against discrimination, to strive for a culturally sensitive medical practice and to work on the representation gap that still exists in many disciplines.

Question: And what message would you give to first-year medical students?

Answer: During your studies you will always have stressful phases, but my message is: Hang in there! It only gets better, especially after the fourth semester. If you can, then by all means go abroad. Dare to try something new: Apply for cool support programmes, summer schools and scholarships - you never know what might develop. If it doesn't work out right the first time, don't hang your head! We've all failed at some point, that's part of it too. During your studies, do a lot of internships to find a specialisation that you are really passionate about. And try to have fun in everything you do. Most of the time you'll succeed!

The interview was conducted by Bettina Dunker.