In the days that followed, I discovered more and more clearly that the death of Jurgen Damen, the fire in the education centre and everything around it is a collective trauma that has shaken the soul of the entire Erasmus MC. This is my personal reflection on last Thursday’s events.

Two days after the shooting at Erasmus MC, I drag myself to the career fair of the KNMG doctors’ federation. There, I meet up with some other medical interns who were at the education centre on Thursday.

A good friend is standing with a flushed face and eyes wet with tears, talking to other medical interns. She gives me a heartfelt hug when she sees me and I ask her how she is. “I’m okay, I just cry every couple of hours,” she says with a forced smile under those dewy eyes. “But I’ll be fine.”

Well-known and dedicated lecturer

That morning, I sat with my study group for a tutorial in the education centre, then we had a skills class about what it is like to be blind or visually impaired. In the afternoon there was a lecture on eye surgery. Instead of attending this lecture, I decided to work at home on an assignment with a looming deadline. I had missed handing it on time before and the lecturers had been kind enough to give me some extra time. While I was at home banging my head on a case study of an ethical dilemma I had faced during my residency, all hell broke loose at the hospital.

Initially, the news reported a shooting and a fire in the city, which to the ears of healthcare workers might sound like an average day in Rotterdam. Even when it became clear that a teacher had been shot, meetings and lectures went on as normal elsewhere in the hospital. Only now do we actually really know what went on then. A nearly graduated medical student first murdered his neighbour and her daughter, drove to Erasmus MC and murdered an especially well-known and dedicated lecturer. The gunman then went looking for his next victims and set fire to the education centre.

Tears and feelings of guilt

The next day, during a meeting with students and staff, experiences are shared. The stories are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each telling a small part of the trauma. I listen to my friends in disbelief. There are second-year students who saw their teacher shot dead. There are colleagues who tried to revive Jurgen Damen. There are medical interns who ran away from a remarkably calm perpetrator who set fire to our education centre. There are people who crawled out of the windows of the quiet rooms to escape. And people jumped off the terrace to save themselves. I can hardly imagine their fear at that moment.

In the days that follow, I also don’t really know what I’m feeling, until I suddenly burst into tears while cycling. I feel a sense of sadness that I can’t quite place, I feel guilty that I was not with my fellow students at the education centre, and most of all I feel a bit stupid for feeling so sad and guilty. Because I don’t have to deal with the trauma that they do.


It is surreal, the ordeal that took place in my hospital. I can hardly imagine it and because I wasn’t there either, it almost seems like it all never happened. But one of our teachers is no longer there, our education centre has been destroyed, my friends have memories that will never go away and hundreds of people have been traumatised. What happened on Thursday touched Erasmus MC in its soul.

When I speak to other medical students or healthcare workers about last Thursday, it’s often not just about the suffering, but mostly about whether this suffering could have been prevented.

Difficult questions

Was there anything we could have done as a hospital or as a society to prevent a medical student from losing his way to the point of committing this unthinkable act? Had his erratic behaviour been on the radar of teachers, supervisors or students earlier? And perhaps more importantly, looking to the future, are we successfully identifying and counselling students who are not fit to be doctors? It is precisely because of our roles as medical students, doctors, healthcare workers and teachers that we have an obligation to think about these difficult questions. Even if that may seem a little early at this stage.

What is just as inconceivable as the idea that this could happen, is the idea that we have to move on after this. Interns who had to run for their lives on Thursday will have to report for their next medical internship somewhere in Bergen op Zoom or Goes in just a few days’ time. Lecturers have to get ready to teach again, and students have to return to classes, even in the building where their lecturer was murdered.

Huge challenge

For the time being, Erasmus MC has its hands full with counselling traumatised students and staff and reorganising education in the midst of an emotionally charged building and a destroyed education centre. This is a huge logistical and emotional challenge for the administrators and departments, and it shows just how disrupted life is in our medical centre.

In a way, the death of Jurgen Damen also symbolises the trauma experienced by the entire Erasmus MC on Thursday. We mourn the loss of a teacher and colleague, which also means that we have to give everyone in our community enough space and attention to process the traumatic experience. Especially because Jurgen Damen was so dedicated to our community as a lecturer and doctor.

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