Why did you decide to volunteer with Friends for Asia in Thailand?
Matveh: I was headed to Thailand for a vacation before returning to the States after two years in Asia. I chose FFA because I wanted something other than the typical tourist/backpacker experience. FFA delivered. I felt like I got a taste of the real Thailand and a glimpse into Thai people's lives. Additionally, Chiang Mai was pleasantly different from southern Thailand. It felt smaller and more welcoming.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer in Thailand.
Matveh: Technically, I was not a volunteer. I was a medical intern. Volunteers have tasks to perform at their volunteer sites. Medical interns simply observe the doctors and medical professionals. In the morning, I'd arrive at the hospital and be informed of the day's upcoming schedule. Typically, I'd go to whichever particular area of the hospital and move around so I could better observe the activities. For instance, in the Emergency Department, as patients were brought in, I would move to the bedside of the case I found most interesting and watch the doctors administer tests and treatment. All of the doctors and staff were welcoming and helpful, beyond my most optimistic expectations. All of the doctors and medical students spoke English quite well.
What made this experience unique and special?
Matveh: People made the experience unique and special. There were 14 people in my orientation group, and we all stayed close as a group until we left. When we had free time, we ate together, visited temples together, and had a great time with each other. We'd come from diverse backgrounds and that gave our group a dynamic that was just as fresh and new as the experiences we shared. Another part of that was the wonderful quality of the coordinators at FFA. They were super-friendly and super-thorough, and they were always happy to facilitate any experience which we couldn't arrange ourselves.
Equally important was the disposition of the doctors and staff at the hospitals. It was consistently amazing how they took time out of their busy schedules to tell me about what was happening and answer any questions I had. They made me feel welcome, comfortable, and happy to be there.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Matveh: Without exaggeration, this experience changed my life. The Thai doctors showed me that ego doesn't have to be a part of a physician's life. They blended kindness and humility with their expertise and dedication. It transformed my ideal of what it means to be a physician and I hope to emulate it in the future. Apart from that, spending time in the hospital confirmed that medicine is a good fit for me. I especially appreciated the time I spent in areas of the hospital where the layman would not be allowed in the U.S.