September 9, 2016
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
A lot of students in high school dream of studying medicine – but how can they tell if it’s the right career for them without practical experience to help them decide?
I was one of those students. Many people apply and start majoring in medicine, but some drop out when they realise it isn’t what they expected. To help me decide, I attended a Gap Medics placement. Through my shadowing experience, I found an answer to the most vital question facing for aspiring health professionals: is studying medicine right for me?
I flew from Kuwait and my whole journey took around 17 hours. It was long and it was tiring, but I was determined to reach Kilimanjaro with the biggest smile on my face!
I had a layover for two hours at Nairobi International Airport. As I was washing my hands in the airport bathroom, I met a fellow Gap Medics participant who was on the same flight as me to Kilimanjaro. As I walked out of the bathroom, I saw another student wearing the Gap Medics shirt! We stood in a small circle to chat. A few minutes later, another two Gap Medics students passed by and were headed on to the same destination. Even though it was almost midnight, I was way too happy to feel tired! I met such amazing people even before I landed, and that was only the beginning.
During the first week of my placement, I was in the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Kibosho Hospital. I was awoken at 6am by the alarm on my phone, which I kept close to my bed to reassure myself that I was going to get up on time. I got dressed by 6:15am and made sure my roommates were up before leaving the room. Before I walked to the main house, I would always greet the security guards by saying “Habari za asubuhi,” which means good morning.
Breakfast started at 6:30am, and I was always on time. I got some food and sat with my new friends to talk and enjoy breakfast. Shortly after, we would leave the house and catch the bus to the hospital. I was greeted by my mentors and was taken to the delivery room to watch the natural births. Whenever there was a C-section, I would make sure I was fully sanitised and head to the surgery room.
I would then come back to the house and had lunch. All my friends and I shared stories of what we saw that day. Every day, there was an activity planned by the staff, so we could head to town as a small group or we could sit by the pool and relax.
Before dinner, there was a global health tutorial taught by a local doctor on very important topics that are not discussed enough at school. It was really interesting to learn about the Tanzanian healthcare system and the ways they deal with issues compared to the way the healthcare systems in different countries deal with the same situations.
For my second week, I was in the dentistry department. Of course, my placement there differed in some aspects. I was introduced to the only dentist in town and shadowed his every move. I enjoyed the motivational speeches that dentist Roman gave me every morning – it always seemed to make my day more positive! I noticed that visiting the dentist is not deemed essential by many locals, as they only visit in times of need and rarely for a checkup. The most common treatment was the root canal treatment – I saw eight of them on my first day in the department!
It’s really hard to pinpoint my favourite memory from my time in Tanzania. The safari was definitely one of them; I felt extremely close to my friends that came on the safari, and we grouped together at night and talked for hours. The trip to the tented lodge was smooth, concluding with a beautiful sunset seen from our safari vehicle.
I definitely miss my friends, who instantly became my family. The first time we all met as a group, we talked as if we knew each other for years as we explored the town and local hot springs. From day one, my experience was nothing but love and laughter. I look back fondly on the times when we would push one another into the pool unexpectedly and fully clothed, and also at the jokes that took us half an hour to calm down from!
I reminisce about our time at Tuleeni Orphanage, when all the students and the kids played games together hand in hand. I remember when local medical students taught me how to count gestational age, and how one of my friends would play German songs for us to sing and dance to as we walked to the hospital. I made so many memories on my trip.
The most important thing I learned was to be confident – to have confidence in yourself and what you say and do. At first, it felt overwhelmed seeing my housemates on the My Gap Medics trip planner, and the fact there were over 45 students to meet. But I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and greeted everyone with a warm heart. Since that day, I have felt more confident in myself. I asked all kinds of questions to my mentors, even if they were silly questions, and no one had any issues with me asking. It is important to show your mentor that you are interested and eager to find out more.
After the trip ended, the worst feeling was saying goodbye to my new family. Leaving was a time filled with tears and countless hugs. I really did not want to say goodbye to any of them – they still mean so much to me, more than anyone could ever know. When I arrived back home in Kuwait, I realised that I wanted to choose the medical path and it pushed me to study harder to reach my goal.
I will be starting my AS-levels in a week and picking subjects to fit my goal. I will also be looking for a local hospital where I can volunteer and get more experience. During the year, I will be saving my money to hopefully go on another Gap medics placement; however, the friends I made in Kilimanjaro are irreplaceable.
If you are thinking of joining a Gap Medics program, I would strongly advise you to do so without a doubt. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Take it.