Following completion of my first year at University during the Summer, I was keen to embark on a five week journey overseas to gain some relevant medical experience that I could reflect upon into entry into my second year at University.
I heard about the Chiang Mai, Thailand medical work experience project that was on offer through Gap Medics and after hearing the reviews of this programme, had my mind set that this was the right place for me to undertake this adventure.
I decided to squeeze in five weeks work of placement experience. I found the application process and journey preparations ran smoothly. I spoke to the Gap Medics team on numerous occasions before my departure and found them to be incredibly friendly and helpful, answering all my questions and concerns.
I was reassured instantly upon arrival at the airport when I was met by one of the Gap Medics team, who met myself and the other arrivals and answered our burning questions.
Upon arrival at the Jungle Lodge resort, I met numerous other volunteers from all areas across the world. I think the age range of 16-25 year olds accepted upon the programme gives a wide mix of individuals at various points in their education and allows the sharing of learning experiences between one another. All volunteers were friendly and sociable and you will instantly form solid friendships with likeminded people. I stayed at the Jungle Lodge resort and shared living accommodations with up to 64 other students at the busiest time of the year. I felt as part of a large family and we were cared for by the caterer and Gap Medics Team. The caterer called us her ‘sons and daughters’ and was very popular, turning into a surrogate Mum for many students! The cleaners, despite speaking little English made us feel very welcome. We further had help at hand from Gap Medics staff who also lived on site and took us under their wings during scheduled activities. The staff felt more like friends than staff and were really keen to help make each students experience as enjoyable and fun-filled as possible. The food offered was served in a buffet style and was always varied and enjoyable!
My first placement experience consisted of a week on a general surgery ward at one of the busiest hospitals in Chiang Mai. This week I got to scrub into theatres and observe firsthand operations ranging from minor procedures, such as hand reconstructions to emergency procedures, such as neurosurgery. I even witnessed the performing of C-sections and was a bit taken aback when a surgeon handed me a newborn baby to hold! I found despite the pressure the surgeons were under, they were still keen to try and explain the procedure in every way they could. I gained a lot of knowledge from witnessing the differences in the healthcare system and was exposed to opportunities to witness procedures that wouldn’t have been possible in the UK. This placement gave me a deep understanding of the human body, including anatomy and physiology that I would not have been able to gain from a textbook!
My second week consisted of a placement in orthopaedics in one of the largest teaching hospitals in Chiang Mai. During this week, most mornings we received English taught lectures on fracture case reviews that were occurring in the hospital by the junior Doctors and Registrars, which were very informative and interesting to watch. The staff at this placement were both incredibly welcoming and keen to supply students with ample learning opportunities. We were able to accompany the doctors on ward rounds, who spoke very good English and would translate everything spoken in Thai for us. A junior Doctor also took us out for the lunch period, which allowed us to embrace the local culture. The days were varied, we would rotate around different departments of the hospital, for example, routine outpatient appointments, plastering, X-Ray and theatres, which ensured a good varied placement experience and an understanding of the journey that the patient may encounter.
My third week consisted of a week in a new private hospital in the local Accident and Emergency Room. During this week, I got to witness a variety of procedures, for example, burns treatments, suturing, plastering and local healthcare procedures. It was interesting to also witness the differences in the healthcare provided and the facilities between a public and private sector hospital. Although some days were busier than others, due to the nature of the placement, the staff, including the student nurses, were very keen to communicate and share their experiences with us.
My fourth week consisted of a week in a psychiatry hospital. Despite initial uncertainty regarding this placement, I really enjoyed it. I was able to learn about various mental health conditions and observed cognitive behavioural therapy sessions and day to day sessions/activities that the patients took part in. Throughout our time at this placement, the Doctor was keen to show us all aspects of mental health care and arranged for us to go with the low risk patients on an away day, which was really rewarding to be a part of.
My final week consisted of a week on neurology and a neurological hospital. The staff at the hospital devised a timetable for us, which enabled us to attend various departments throughout the hospital. I spent time on the rehabilitation wards, which gave me an idea of the management of care required for neurological conditions. On our final day, we were fortunate enough to witness a planned spinal surgery, which put into perspective what we had learned about at the beginning of the week.
I found Chiang Mai a very exciting and fun filled place to live. The programme at Gap Medics is jam-packed. Every day after placement there is a scheduled activity, whether this is a Thai speaking lesson, clinical taught session, trip to the local Bizarre night market or evening meal out with the house. There is always plenty to do and culture to embrace and the Gap Medics team are keen to facilitate activities for the students depending on their desire. I would highly recommend partaking in the Hill Tribe experience as this was an unforgettable experience, which involved staying with a host family in the jungle, riding elephants, zip wiring and rafting. I would also recommend going to see the world famous lady boys show, which really is a must!
To conclude, I had an unforgettable experience on my Chiang Mai medical placement with Gap Medics. I found the placements informative, relaxed and provided a good learning environment. I have also met some amazing people, who I will remain friends with and feel like I have developed as a person from embarking on this journey.