UvA medical student Ahmed Bayoumy is getting ready for the final round of the ECHO Awards, which are granted to excellent students with a non-Western background. He will present himself to the jury on 26 September, when it will become clear whether he wins the coveted ECHO Award.
At the moment, Ahmed Bayoumy (b.1994) is completing his medical clerkship at Amsterdam UMC while also following a Master’s in Nutrition and Health: Epidemiology & Public Health at Wageningen University. He has a part-time job at the Defensity College as well. Clearly, Ahmed’s days must consist of more than just 24 hours.
How are you combining all these activities?
Ahmed: ‘It is all about careful planning. I work very efficiently; I’m very much a military man in this respect. As the military likes to say: hurry up when you have the time, so you’ll have the time when you need to hurry. Of course, it’s not always easy. During my military education, I also had an exam on kidney disease which had me studying until the early hours of the morning back at the barracks. While we were in the middle of bivouac, I had to rush towards the AMC to sit the exam and head back again to camp in the woods. Nonetheless, I do make sure to set aside some time for other fun things, such as working out or heading out for sushi with my friends.’
The ECHO Award is granted to a bridge builder. Which worlds are you connecting?
‘I am the son of an Egyptian father from Cairo and a Dutch mother from Katwijk aan Zee. You could say that I grew up between the Nile and the Rhine. Furthermore, I am a part of the medical world, the military world, the civilian world, the academic world, the Western world, the Arabian world, the Islamic world, the student world, the world of young people and many, many more. I try to take the positive from each of those worlds and internalise it in order to let it shape my own personality. Being a part of various different worlds mainly helps you to understand both others and yourself. I was lucky enough to take certain parts of my UvA studies in Cairo, Hong Kong and London. These experiences added another dimension to my education and I would strongly suggest that everyone take their studies abroad at least once.’
What would you suggest that the UvA should do to improve inclusion and diversity further?
‘What I notice at AMC is that there are very few staff members and professors with a non-Western background. It would be wonderful if every layer of the university and the medical centre were a proper representation of our society. While I understand that this scenario is perhaps not feasible in the short term, as you need extremely talented and ambitious people to fill these positions, every step still counts. Now, there are two sides to this issue. On the one hand, students from a minority group have to show their added value and potential; on the other hand, people in privileged positions also have to provide these minority students with the opportunities and guidance that they need. Our generation will have to try a little harder in order to make it easier for the next generation of young people.
Why did you take a part-time job with the Defensity College instead of a ‘regular’ student job?
Ahmed: ‘Defence is the perfect field to work for the betterment of society. Your freedom should be protected regardless of your skin colour, faith, sex or orientation. The armed forces are trying to achieve exactly this aim. I was already looking at a position as a reservist with the Defence department when I saw a Facebook ad for Defensity College. At Defensity College, university students do part-time work with the armed forces. One day a week, I work at the Central Military Hospital in Utrecht, which is easy to combine with my studies.’
Are you managing to contribute to inclusion and connect different worlds during your time with the armed forces?
‘In the final stages of my accelerated military education, I arranged for a more inclusive version of the ‘promotion’ ceremony, in which the tradition is to douse the rank insignias in beer. I bought some non-alcoholic beer at a supermarket so I could join in with this tradition while still staying true to my own identity. Furthermore, when I was sworn in as an officer in the Royal Netherlands Navy earlier this year, I was happy to learn that they also allowed me to swear an Islamic oath.’
Failure makes you great
Who are your inspirations and how do you want to inspire young people yourself?
‘My inspirations are the prophet Mohammed, the 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday, the American boxer Muhammed Ali and the 83-year-old Egyptian-British doctor Sir Magdi Yacoub. Mostly, however, I want young people to understand that you have to contend with yourself instead of looking at others. In our time of perfect Instagram photos and LinkedIn profiles, we create an unattainable ideal. Follow your own path. I did not take the usual route to end up at university. I first completed my senior general secondary education (HAVO), then the first-year of an undergraduate degree programme with an applied emphasis, after which I completed two years of pre-university education during my first year of Pharmacy at Utrecht University through self-study. I subsequently moved on to Medicine. My story hopefully shows people that you should never give up. No matter how winding the road, it always ends up somewhere. I have failed a thousand times and I still mess up on a daily basis. The reason that I’m keen on inspiring young people to fail is because only failure makes you great. It’s not how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. Surround yourself with the right people and keep improving yourself. When the time is right, be the mentor that you needed yourself.’
About the ECHO Awards
With its awards ceremony, the national expertise centre for diversity policy ECHO helps to shine a light on excellent students with a non-Western background who can contribute to creating equal opportunities for all. Winners are rewarded with a fully organised summer course at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States. The summer course in LA in which Ahmed would like to take part in the event that he wins the ECHO Awards is Global Health: United Nations: Transforming Health on Global Stage.