Everyone has a dream, and for sixteen students from all over the world between 16 and 18 who represented a diverse group of future medical practitioners, their dreams largely came true. This was due to a number of factors, including an engaging, safe and assured program run by Projects Abroad, who set us up in Chitwan Medical College Teaching Hospital in Bharatpur, Nepal. The students were exposed to a unique and engrossing cultural experience that included diﬀerent religions, food, customs and driving practices, along with a fascinating and challenging medical experience that can only be undertaken in a developing country like Nepal where doctors need to be more resourceful, highly skilled and resilient.
In the group of 16, everyone bonded from the beginning because some of them brought decks of cards, including Uno, which brought everyone together. As we were all around the same age, it was easy to relate to each other. On a daily basis, we would all eat, go shopping, travel to the hospital and hang out at the end of the day together. It was amazing to see such a diverse group of students, who didn’t know each other, getting along so well together in a foreign land. By the end of the trip, we had become a second family and were sad to see each other go.
Everyone who participated in the trip was immersed in the Nepali culture, including going from place to place by road, which involved diﬀerent ways of travelling. On one adventure, we decided to go to a museum in Chitwan National Park by yak cart. While travelling by yak was bumpy and slow, it felt natural because you could feel the road beneath you. It was connected to the open ﬁelds and, surprisingly, soothing. This was in marked diﬀerence to travelling through the busy city streets where the road rules are few, there is little structure, roundabouts are heavily disguised, and drivers constantly honk their horns to communicate rather than being aggressive.
In regard to religion, we were told by our cultural tour guide that “There are 30 million people in Nepal and there are 330 million Gods that can be worshipped” which means there are approximately 11 unique Gods available to every individual in the country. Nepal is predominantly 80% Hindu, 10% Buddhist and also includes people from Kiranti, Christian and Muslim backgrounds. We visited a number of temples which included a ‘monkey temple’ located at the top of a mountain that was occupied by 10,000 monkeys. In fact, a girl from our group, Hannah, had her ice cream snatched by a mischievous monkey who probably saw us coming. This made me hold onto my belongings even tighter.
The most amazing event I witnessed during my two-week stay was the birth of three babies at Chitwan Medical College Hospital. The common feature of the births was that they were all caesarian in nature due to medical complications preventing a natural birth. I was initially shocked that one of the babies was born blue before taking its ﬁrst breath and was soon wrapped in a blanket and put next to a heat lamp. As an observer, I was nervous but did manage to ask the doctors a series of questions later on so I could understand the procedure, some of the terms being used and what happens to the patient after the operation. Witnessing these events made me feel even more inspired to become a doctor and that my journey was the right choice.
Some of the other medical procedures I witnessed included a colonoscopy, removal of gallstones, an endoscopy, a humerus relocation and a replacement of a contraceptive implant. Oddly enough, during the replacement of the contraceptive implant, which involved cutting open the patient’s upper arm, most of our group left the room to compose themselves despite it being the mildest procedure we had witnessed. This was more than likely a combination of fatigue and exposure to a number of blood-soaked situations we were placed in as part of the learning experience. In speaking to a doctor after the event, he said, “When I ﬁrst saw a cadaver, I nearly fainted”, which was reassuring. This incident, along with many others, taught us that there are many obstacles to overcome in becoming a competent and qualiﬁed doctor.
Over the course of my placement, my admiration and respect for the doctors and medical staﬀ expanded enormously because I could see them managing diﬃcult and challenging situations with less advanced equipment and resources every day. The doctors remained calm and composed in every situation and did not show signs of stress or dismay. They are to be commended on their exceptional levels of resilience, skill and knowledge. Watching these doctors, nurses, and Nepali medical students made me more inspired to become a doctor and realise my lifelong dream.
One of the biggest lessons I received from my trip to Nepal was that when I returned home to Australia, a wealthy and relatively well resourced ﬁrst world country, it made me even more grateful for everything we have, which includes basic things like clean air and water as well as a well-regulated society and advanced healthcare which is available to everyone.
I was blessed to be able to spend my 17th birthday on the 20 January in Nepal, which is something I will never forget.
I’m now more inspired and determined than ever.
Xavier Haynes (Year 12)