Samer S. Hoz1, Mustafa Ismail2, Muntadher H. Almufadhal2, Teeba A. Al-Ageely2, Zaid Aljuboori3
  1. Department of Neurosurgery, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States,
  2. Department of Neurosurgery, University of Baghdad, College of Medicine, Baghdad, Iraq,
  3. Department of Neurosurgery, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin, United States.

Correspondence Address:
Samer S. Hoz, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States.


Copyright: © 2022 Surgical Neurology International This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 License, which allows others to remix, transform, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as the author is credited and the new creations are licensed under the identical terms.

How to cite this article: Hoz SS1, Ismail M2, Almufadhal MH2, Al-Ageely TA2, Aljuboori Z3. Reinvigorating medical student mentorships in neurosurgery during the pandemic: Lessons learned from Iraq. Surg Neurol Int 12-Aug-2022;13:357

How to cite this URL: Hoz SS1, Ismail M2, Almufadhal MH2, Al-Ageely TA2, Aljuboori Z3. Reinvigorating medical student mentorships in neurosurgery during the pandemic: Lessons learned from Iraq. Surg Neurol Int 12-Aug-2022;13:357. Available from:

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The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic affected both directly and indirectly the study and work conditions. The government has taken several steps to contain the spread of the virus; a nationwide curfew was imposed on March 17, 2020, and a complete lockdown was ordered.[ 1 ] Furthermore, it caused an unprecedented interruption in medical education for students across the country. It forced students to leave their clinical rotations, endangering their opportunities to gain enough exposure to medical specialties, complete graduation necessities timely, and earn the skills and knowledge required for residency. Naturally, due to the new pandemic era, the traditional live mentorship process was impractical in that event. A new modified mentorship paradigm was established that included online lectures focused on the basic required knowledge for neurosurgery, and clerkship lectures comprised activities of students, where 558 medical students were involved. This paper discusses the Baghdad neurosurgery mentorship during the COVID-19 pandemic with notable comparison to the mentorship preceding the pandemic epoch.


Modern neurosurgery in Iraq originated in the 1970s. It showed a relatively slow developmental pace, evident in the few neurosurgeons per population. Moreover, medical graduates have little interest in pursuing a career in neurosurgery in Iraq due to the high demanding job and few incentives in return.[ 2 ] At most medical schools, total exposure to neurosurgery is weighted toward the senior years (5th and 6th year), and it is often the duty of the students to do extra exploration of the field that could be interesting for them, especially in the early 1st years in medical school.[ 4 ] Therefore, HOZ Neurosurgery Laboratory was launched to ease that duty and make exploring neurosurgery more available and easily reached. Furthermore, it increases the level of interest of medical students in neurosurgery by creating a series of mentorships. For the past 6 years, seven mentorships hosted in the HOZ NeuroSurgery LAB in Neurosurgical Teaching Hospital, Baghdad, were done with a total of 532 participants in different years in medical schools to provide them the early exposure to neurosurgery. Students were selected to attend these courses and are permitted to participate in an observership period during which they attend a series of live lectures, seminars, and hands-on basic skills courses. In addition, shadowing the neurosurgery residents in the emergency department, operating room, and intensive care units was one of the main objectives for medical students involving the clinical side of the mentorship.[ 3 ]


The new mentorship started on May 15, 2021. It included a 1-month online course focused on the basic required knowledge for neurosurgery. Specifically, it contained neurosurgical anatomy, neuroimaging, principles of neurological surgery, and discussion on neurosurgical operative videos. The students apply for this course through a preparatory motivational online form. This form includes several questions aimed at evaluating students’ aims and ambitions for this particular mentorship. Then, the form is corrected and reviewed by the mentor, who eventually selects the proper students for this mentorship. In addition, to using the Zoom application for our virtual meetings for discussions, the Telegram application was also used to receive written feedback and further discussions. These two applications gave a positive opportunity to increase students’ attendance due to ease of access. Despite this challenging period, the number of students in this virtual mentorship exceeded the number of students in all the previous seven mentorships combined, which depended on the live meetings.


In this course, the mentees had various opportunities, including doing online public presentations by students about a research project, they have conducted and surgeries they have attended. It was, furthermore, connecting online with international figures, and discussing various topics in neurosurgery career abroad. Likewise, such collaborations can open the doors for new opportunities for medical students by being oriented to the current neurosurgery trends.


The practical part of the mentorship was started with clerkship lectures during a 5-month course. In each virtual meeting, quizzes about neuroanatomy, neuroimaging, and differential diagnosis were included in the study. The students who answer correctly and confidently have a better opportunity to attend the operations. Two operative days per week, where they can attend neurovascular surgeries, tumors, and some diagnostic and therapeutic cerebral catheterizations. Each operation day, four students will be allowed to attend the operation. Moreover, due to the exceptional period, the priority was to keep students as safe as possible throughout the operation days. This involved providing personal protective equipment that is mandatorily worn besides requiring an official paper of complete vaccination for each participant. After each surgery, the students had to stay and check on the patient’s recovery. Two students simultaneously attend the emergency department and three in the neurosurgical intensive care units to engage a maximum number of students simultaneously at different aspects of neurosurgery. At the end of each day, feedback about the surgery was collected, the experience, the lessons, and even the feelings would be reported by the students who attended. These summaries were beneficial, making other students in mentorship more oriented about the etiquette in the operating room, the operation steps, and what they should and should not. Furthermore, every four students who attended an operation had to write a research paper related to the operation that they attended after a series of clerkship aimed at educating medical students about research.


It was expected that COVID-19 would negatively impact the HOZ neurosurgical mentorship. However, amazement was found that the number of participants in this mentorship alone was more significant than the number of participants in all mentorships that preceded the pandemic. A combined 558 participants have been included in the online course, and only about 223 participants of them attended the operations, because those who did not attend were either from distant places in Iraq or only wanted a clearer view of neurosurgery and its depth. The success of this mode of teaching during the pandemic is due to several reasons, including (1) using of social media to promote virtual learning to a broader audience and to offer networking opportunities, (2) the developing of virtual clerkships with increased attendance due to ease of access through the use of Zoom to increase medical students’ clinical exposure, and (3) gaining the ability to give feedback from mentor and peers alike.[ 5 ] Therefore, the effectiveness of mentorship is doubled, and the students’ response was positive. Many of them attended neurosurgical operations, made impressive online presentations, and participated in research papers that were a distant dream to achieve. They met new peers, and the right neurosurgeon attitudes were their extensive gain.


1. Elbaldawi L. Is Iraq Taking Necessary Measures to Prevent COVID-19 Spread?. Available from: [Last accessed on 2022 Jul 24].

2. Hoz SS, Al-Sharshahi ZF, Dolachee AA, Matti WE.editors. Letter to the editor: Beyond containment: Tracking the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on neurosurgery services in Iraq. World Neurosurg. 2020. 143: 619

3. Hoz SS, Al-Sharshahi ZF, Esene IN, Al-Awadi OM, Salih HR, Alrawi MA. More laboratory simulations-fewer brain complications: Prospects from the first neurosurgery laboratory in Iraq. World Neurosurg. 2022. 157: 30-4

4. Lobel DA, Kahn M, Rosen CL, Pilitsis JG. Medical student education in neurosurgery: Optional or essential?. Teach Learn Med. 2015. 27: 201-4

5. Wilcha RJ. Effectiveness of virtual medical teaching during the COVID-19 crisis: Systematic review. JMIR Med Educ. 2020. 6: e20963

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