I decided to do my medical elective through Work the World because I have known for a number of years about their reputation for providing well-organised, good quality electives.
There is never really a good time in medical school to be planning a self-organised elective; even if you get it done early you can still fall foul of last minute issues such as accommodation falling through, or hospital contacts suddenly appearing to drop off the face of the earth (both of which happened to friends of mine), and in my medical school “last minute” meant right in the middle of finals…
So I thought I would minimise all the hassle by signing up with these guys. And I’m so glad I did, because everything was so easy – the pre-trip information and guidance meant I was aware of everything I needed to be, without the need for hours of painstaking research, and all it required on my behalf to get the actual hospital placement sorted out was a phone-call with Rob in the UK office and for me to fill in a form – essentially a CV listing my experiences so far in medical school – so the hospital could see who they were taking on. I definitely recommend taking some time out to read through the literature which Work the World send through their online system “MyTrip” – it saved me a lot of bother and probably a fair amount of cash on internal flights, with their recommendations.
I ended up with a really good deal on my international flight too – it was around £430 with China Southern, which was around £180 cheaper than anything else available. I bought it in full knowledge that it has a 15 hour stopover in China, but didn’t realise that this meant I would be given a 24 hour visa and hotel for the night when I arrived! This meant that I arrived in the Philippines after a comfortable night’s sleep, and it was lovely to be picked up from the airport by the Philippines Director, Mishie, who was going to spend most of the next couple of days with me and the other new arrival that weekend, as she took us through our induction around the house, the hospital and the city of Iloilo. It made everything so easy and instantly familiar, that I ended up experiencing no sort of culture shock whatsoever (I am pretty well-travelled, yet – under normal circumstances - I still suffer from this when I go abroad!).
My placement was in the Internal Medicine department, but I ended up getting to know so many people from across the whole hospital, because they were always so eager to get to know new people
The Work the World Philippines house is really quite spectacular. It has lovely high ceilings with some amazing architectural features (I know very little about this subject so won’t embarrass myself by saying more) and the highlight is probably the roof terrace which has lovely views across the Iloilo river, the city and out towards the mountains to the west (with a spectacular sunset show every night). This was the setting of the first few Thursday night barbeques, where the staff put on an incredible spread of different traditional Filipino and international dishes. These guys work so hard at everything they do – from Mishie to housekeeper Nellie, chef Gerry and general handyman June; they just could not do enough for us, and at times we had to insist that they took a break from helping us out!
But I think this helpful, friendly manner is just something which is ingrained in Filipino culture, because everyone at the hospital was just as lovely. My placement was in the Internal Medicine department, but I ended up getting to know so many people from across the whole hospital, because they were always so eager to get to know new people, and I spent plenty of evenings out with the various groups of doctors and nurses. I think one of the factors that was key in building these relationships was that I had decided I wanted to take the placement seriously. I know plenty of medical students see their elective as a time to concentrate more on travelling and seeing new places, and that’s fine, but I figured if I was going to travel out with Work the World then the placement should be my priority – I could always travel again in the future but when was I going to get an opportunity to do this again?!
So I put in the hours, and tried my best to be as helpful as I could. Which wasn’t particularly helpful, obviously, but I was able to do a lot more than I thought. And so, when the doctors there were challenging me to do a 30 hour shift with them, I agreed, and this helped me to bond with people, as well as being a great opportunity to see more than I ever would during normal working hours.
I didn’t venture very far on the weekends. I had originally had great plans to take long trips out to beach resorts and dive spots, but once I was there I found that people were inviting me to join in with their plans, so I went to a house-warming one weekend, a trip to a farm on another, and then joined in a local religious festival on another, all with groups of people from the hospital. But there is a great deal that you can do, if you are willing to put in a few hours of travel. The island of Boracay is one of the best known local places to visit – it is still a 5 hour+ coach ride away but it is well worth it when you get there, as I did once the elective had finished! I’m fairly sure it won’t be long until there are direct flights there from Iloilo too. Plus I am sure that when there are larger numbers of students staying in the Work the Work house there will be a number of different trips being planned every weekend!
At the end of my placement I had opted to do the week-long Village Experience. At the time of signing up I had really only thought of it as a change of scenery from the previous month of life in the city, but it actually ended up being a really important part of my elective, as the people I was staying with - a group of indigenous “Ati” people - made such an unexpected impact on me. They were so kind and welcoming and treated me like a member of their family, and at the end of the week it was actually really hard to leave!
I really appreciated the work and the thought that had gone into this week from Work the World too – there was just the right amount of medical focus – mainly just working until lunchtime, in the local hospital. Then there was an activity in the afternoons based back at the village – ranging from me learning about the culture of the Ati people, to me teaching them about medicine and English language. At the end of the week we did an incredible island-hopping trip around the many small islands off the shore of the actual island the village was on – Guimaras. And in between there was lots of hanging around with the villagers, playing games and just generally soaking up village life. It was an unforgettable experience and one which I recommend to anyone who feels they can get by leading a rather more basic lifestyle for a few days, in return for getting to spend time with some of the loveliest people it is possible to meet.
I absolutely loved my time in the Philippines. I haven’t included many of the stories about my trip in this report, because I wrote about them in a few blog posts I did while I was out there if you are interested in finding out more.
I thought I would end with a little piece of advice which I was given and which served me pretty well. I was told not to have expectations of how things would be, because that tends to lead to disappointment, discontentment or disagreement with what you actually find. Instead you should try to be like a sponge, and just soak up as much of the experience as possible…Cheesy, but surprisingly helpful!