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Medicine in Sri Lanka by Elizabeth Martin

A beach in Sri Lanka

When I booked my trip in Sri Lanka, I was incredibly excited. I love seeing the world and working in the healthcare sector is my ideal job. I knew even then it was going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I was going to take every moment of it and live it to the fullest. I was correct and I loved it even more than I thought I would.

Traveling to Sri Lanka

I was extremely apprehensive of traveling alone for the first time, such a long distance from home to what was the unknown. I didn’t know what to expect. The thought of the giant airports that I would have to muddle my way through petrified me, however, once I began my journey all my worries seemed to disappear. I realized that it wasn’t as scary as I was in a safe place with plenty of help from the people around me.

One of the first things I noticed when I landed in Sri Lanka was that everyone was so friendly. We were pleasantly greeted at the airport and looked after by the exceptionally friendly staff. We were shown around and introduced to this brand new culture that I’d never been a part of before and very quickly made to feel at home. Sri Lanka was nothing like I expected. It is one of the most stunning countries you could imagine, winding hills leading to mountaintops looking down onto deep green valleys and miles of white sand beaches and big blue waves. Amongst this, you will find many working people, bustling traffic, tooting horns and side street shops.

My host family

Medicine volunteers in Sri Lanka

When we first met our host family we were all greeted with smiles and hugs, there was delicious homemade food waiting on the kitchen table and we were shown around the house. After a long day traveling all we wanted was a good sleep and very quickly we were made to feel at home. Our host mom knocked on our doors to let us know when dinner was ready and gave us a hug every night, often comforting us when we felt homesick and afraid. There was always plenty of food and options as to what you would like to eat and the bowls were always full. I became incredibly close to the others in the house, we would spend our nights together keeping one another company just laughing and relaxing after our busy days. They really do become your family for the short period of time you’re in the country.

My Medical placement

From a young age, I’ve always wanted to work in the healthcare sector and had a great interest in different aspects of it. When I booked my trip to Sri Lanka I knew that no matter what I ended up doing in the future or studying at university, this trip was going to be beneficial for me academically as well as an eye opener to the world around me.

Medicine volunteers with the kids after a hygiene workshop

The hospital that I was placed at was only a 5-minute drive from my host family. We were taken there every day and we would go around and experience everything together. Each day or couple of days we rotated around the different wards and departments in the hospital. I got to experience work in OPD, PCU, general medicine, paediatrics, surgical, theatre and the eye clinic. In each area of the hospital, I experienced and learned something new. All the doctors were wonderful and their explanations were so clear and helpful; I got all my questions answered. Despite the intense amount of work put upon these doctors, they always managed to give us time, after seeing a patient, to explain what was going on.

My favorite department has to have been theatre. We got scrubbed up and were allowed to enter the operating room. This was exceptionally eye opening and differs from anything we could image. The surgeons and doctors, even in surgery, all talk to you and help explain what is going on allowing you to fully comprehend what is happening, rather than feeling lost.

The intensity of the doctor’s workload was one of the most shocking factors within the hospital. Corridors would be full of people pushing their way through queues to get to the doctor first and each patient is seen within a 2-minute space. In Sri Lanka and many other developing countries, illnesses and cases brought into the hospital tend to follow particular trends and often epidemics fill up beds and cause much worry. This is caused by a lack of medical development and general health and hygiene awareness within communities. Without improvement to this, it is highly unlikely much will change. That’s where we, as volunteers, come and help.

Community days

My favorite part of the trip was the community awareness camps and medical camps. This was our opportunity to make a difference to many lives and help educate and improve awareness with the hope that it will allow many to live a healthier life. We were taken to a primary school and given a couple of hours to talk to, play with, and educate young children about their hygiene and health. Working with these children was incredibly rewarding. Seeing their excited faces and listening to them learn and take in what we taught them certainly allowed us to feel we made a difference.

We also attended medical camps where we would see up to 200 locals from underprivileged areas, taking their blood pressure and blood sugar levels. We also got to learn from and work with doctors and pharmacists. At these camps, we were able to have contact and communicate with real people and gain knowledge of what it is like to be on the giving end of healthcare; telling nervous patients everything will be okay, carefully treating them and allowing them to feel that they can rely on us.

My advice

If I could give one piece of advice for another high school student going on a medical voluntary trip it would be based on confidence. It was a build-up of confidence, which allowed me to book myself on the trip, get to my destination, learn so much in the hospitals and become friends with so many new people from all around the world. I am not an overly confident person, however, every step I took along the way to Sri Lanka from the very beginning helped to build and improve it, providing me with so many new life skills. You need to be able to approach and speak to the doctors within the hospital and the more interest you show, the happier they will be to teach you and help develop your interests.

I had one of the most incredible times in Sri Lanka. The medical placement and experiences I was given were invaluable. I would strongly recommend it to anyone willing to learn and experience what the world has to give us!

Elizabeth Martin

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