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Medicine in China by Amy Campbell

China volunteering

Selecting Projects Abroad

I first encountered Projects Abroad at an internship fair at my university in spring last year. As an anatomy student, Projects Abroad was one of the few student volunteer organizations who allowed me to undertake a medical placement.

While I have enjoyed a variety of work experience placements in my hometown of Glasgow in Scotland I was very excited at the prospect of observing in a healthcare setting in a foreign country. At first I could not choose between China and Jamaica but upon hearing of the social aspects of a project in China my decision was made.

Arriving in Shanghai

I left for Shanghai on the first of August ready to begin my two week placement followed by two weeks of traveling. This was my first trip alone and I was slightly apprehensive about what to expect but I needn’t have worried as, after a 16 hour flight, I was welcomed by Danny - a Projects Abroad staff member - who quickly filled me in about the city and the other volunteers!

Accommodation

Ready for surgery

My apartment on Dong Fang Lu in Pudong was about forty minutes away from the airport and on arriving I was delighted to see that the complex had a swimming pool as well as a security gate and a beautiful water fountain. My apartment was for 5 people - two double rooms and a single. I shared with an Italian teaching volunteer, Christina, while Jerome (another medic) and Joe (a journalist) shared the other double leaving Emily (on a law placement) in the other room.

Between us we hailed from four different countries and it was fascinating to learn about other volunteers’ cultures and customs as well as that of the Chinese. Quickly I learned that all the other volunteers were also in touch and we met for dinner and drinks most nights. On the weekend we also went on trips to further afield places together in order to make the most of our time there. We saw a canal village, visited the markets (a must!) and scaled the 98 floors to have a drink in the sky bars.

Working at the hospital

Travels in China

The hospital, Ren Ji, was within walking distance from my apartment. Ren Ji Hospital has separate buildings for internal medicine/ER and for surgery/intensive care. As I had expressed an interest in surgery before leaving on my trip I spent all of my time there. The hospital set up in China is very different from in the UK, not least because of the monetary aspects but also because relatives are allowed to visit at any time and they have a much closer relationship to the surgeon than in the UK.

My first week was spent in thoracic surgery where I got to observe a pneumonectomy, a lobectomy and an esophagectomy under the supervision of the deputy head of surgery, Dr Ye. In my second week I spent time with Eve, a trainee cardiac surgeon, who took time to show me the pathology specimens that were taken from cardiac patients which I was able to compare to some I had seen in the UK.

I was lucky to have seen some diseases that are no longer prevalent in the western world such as a rheumatic aortic valve. During the time Eve allowed me to observe a heart biopsy, repair of a deficient mitral valve and open heart surgery to repair an overriding aorta caused by the patient’s Marfan’s syndrome all of which were truly fascinating and will stay with me forever.

I was also permitted to go on ward rounds in the morning, usually around 8am, and was given a tour of the cardiac intensive care unit as well as the high dependency unit. My work day was normally 8.30am to 3 or 4pm depending on when the surgery finished up. My supervisors both spoke English and I felt welcomed by the other nurses and doctors.

Exploring China

Visiting the Great Wall of China

Upon finishing my two weeks placement, I spent a further two weeks traveling around China. Upon leaving the hustle and bustle of Shanghai I flew to Chengdu with my mother who had flown out to meet me and spent some time enjoying the ‘spicy city’. We saw the elderly taking part in morning tai chi in the park, visited a Buddhist monastery as well as visiting the panda sanctuary where I got to hold a baby panda cub!

Leaving Chengdu, we moved on to Xi’an where we witnessed the sheer magnitude of the terracotta army which was breathtaking. Xi’an itself is a very picturesque place with the city wall intact, the big goose pagoda and beautifully decorated drum and bell towers. We then flew onto Beijing where, of course, we visited the Great Wall. This was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip and a memory I’ll cherish forever. We climbed the wall (in retrospect we should have used the cable car!) but we made it back down in no time at all using the toboggan track that has been built into the side of the mountain.

While in Beijing we also visited the temple of heaven, Forbidden City, summer palace and a silk and pearl market and I would recommend every single one! On our last night in Beijing we saw the national state acrobats which was fantastic. We returned to Shanghai on the bullet train which was a great experience in itself.

Upon arriving in Shanghai we spent the day before we were due to go home traveling the 40 minutes to Hangzhou which is, without exception, the single most beautiful place I have ever seen. When it finally came time to go home we did so feeling that two weeks was most definitely not long enough and I would encourage anyone who is interested to take the plunge as it will be the trip of a lifetime!

Amy Campbell

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