Meet Gamal Khalifa, Champion of North African EM

Published on January 8, 2015
A founding father of Egyptian emergency medicine, Dr. Khalifa countinues to provide vision for the specialty in North Africa and the Middle East.

The practice of emergency medicine is such an integral part to all health care systems that it is easy to forget that it is still a relatively newly recognized specialty. The first emergency medicine training programs were formed in the 1970s in the United States, and soon more countries followed. The University of Alexandria in Egypt was one of the first institutions to establish an emergency medicine program outside the United States. Dr. Gamal Eldin Khalifa was one of the first emergency medicine graduates from the University of Alexandria and can therefore boast the title of one of the first physicians ever to specialize in emergency medicine, apart from those in the United States.

Born in a small town in Northern Egypt, Khalifa never wanted to become a physician. With a photographic memory and the ability to do complicated mathematics in his head, he originally pursued a career in engineering. But after one month in a military engineering school, he decided that he did not want a life in the military. At his father’s urging, he went to medical school, graduating with honors from the University of Alexandria in 1977. He then spent one year in general surgery residency but soon felt dissatisfied with the monotony of the same surgical procedures he was performing.

In 1978 Professor Abdel Megid Sadek, a Cambridge University graduate professor of surgery, brought emergency medicine to Egypt, recruiting doctors to join the program. Ready for a new challenge, Khalifa was interviewed and accepted into the emergency medicine program. After a thirty-five year career in emergency medicine, Khalifa still feels the challenge and excitement of every patient and the unpredictability of this specialty.

As one of the first emergency medicine physicians, Khalifa became a pioneer in the advancement of emergency medicine internationally. He has personally served and helped develop the specialty of emergency medicine in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Syria.

In 1978 Professor Abdel Megid Sadek, a Cambridge University graduate professor of surgery, brought emergency medicine to Egypt, recruiting doctors to join the program. Ready for a new challenge, Khalifa was interviewed and accepted into the emergency medicine program.

He has also received training in hospital management and obtained a two-year diploma in Hospital Management. In 2005, Khalifa expanded his interests into disaster medicine and became certified by the European Master in Disaster Medicine, EMDM, in Italy. He continued his work with the EMDM as a tutor and lecturer and facilitator for full scale exercises, training medical staff on different medical disaster courses. By 2010, he co-authored the International Disaster Nursing Manual, printed by the Cambridge University Press. He has actively participated in JCI hospital accreditation and re-accreditation of two healthcare facilities in Abu Dhabi for 10 years and ultimately became certified as a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ). He is also certified through the College of Emergency Medicine.

Another of Khalifa’s major accomplishments was the establishment of the Egyptian Resuscitation Council (EgRC) in 2001. The EgRC originally started out as a group of friends, comprised of two emergency medicine doctors, including Khalifa, and four professors of anesthesia, solely as emergency medical consultants. EgRC, with the leadership of Khalifa, disseminated training on Resuscitation, Trauma , Disaster and Emergency Medicine all over Egypt, the Middle East, and North Africa. The EgRC now runs courses in most universities in Egypt, as well as in 15 other countries including the Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, KSA, Sudan, Qatar, Tunisia, and UAE and Syria. The EgRC members have also helped many countries form their own resuscitation councils, including Hungary, Cyprus, and Turkey. Khalifa was then granted the Fellowship of the European Resuscitation Council, after which he became and continues to serve as an executive member of the European Resuscitation Council (ERC). He is the co-author for the guidelines of the ERC and the ERC Advanced Life Support Manual as well as a reviewer for the journal, “Resuscitation.”

Emergency medicine in Egypt has transformed during the years of Khalifa’s medical career. In the early 1980’s, the University of Alexandria was the only institution with an established program, graduating 3-4 graduates per year. After a few year hiatus where the dean of the university stopped the program, emergency medicine can now be found in three Egyptian universities.

Khalifa has a vision for emergency care in Egypt where all communities, rich and poor, have access to good quality of care. He believes that high quality, not necessarily high technology, should be the mandate of emergency care training.

The ministry of health has developed a four year training program which now graduates 20-25 graduates per year.

The major challenge in emergency medicine that Egypt now faces is keeping their trained doctors in-country. There is a huge drain of trained Egyptian emergency medicine physicians going to Europe, Australia, and the United States for higher pay. However, small hospitals in rural communities in Egypt need these highly trained doctors!

Khalifa has a vision for emergency care in Egypt where all communities, rich and poor, have access to good quality of care. He believes that high quality, not necessarily high technology, should be the mandate of emergency care training. Adequately trained emergency medicine doctors should be able to practice medicine at all resource levels, not just at high-resource levels. Education and the will and motivation of doctors, nurses, and paramedics are the key to reaching this goal.

After a fulfilling career in emergency medicine and a resume long enough to fill a book, Khalifa is now a retired clinician. He spends four months a year as a visiting senior consultant for the Hamad Medical Corporation in Doha, Qatar as well as the senior training consultant at the Compass Training Center in Cairo, Egypt. The rest of his year is dedicated to research, teaching, and training in the Middle East, North Africa, and many European countries through his expertise on resuscitation, trauma, disaster, and emergency medicine. He is currently serving his fourth term as the President for the Egyptian Resuscitation Council and sits on the Board of Directors for the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine.

Now that he is retired, Khalifa enjoys spending some time with his family, playing chess, swimming, and deep water fishing. At age 61, he hopes to publish his second book about his long journey in emergency medicine and his vision for its future.

This article originally appeared in Issue 15 of Emergency Physicians International.

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