I have wanted to go abroad ever since I started studying medicine. I was interested to see how healthcare would be somewhere else and I was keen to take those experiences home with me.
After I had finished my degree, I decided to take a gap year so I could travel. This was obviously also the perfect moment to take the opportunity to go abroad for a placement. A friend of mine told me about Work the World and her experience with them. She had also been to Iloilo in The Philippines and her stories and photos immediately got me excited. After a few phone calls with Work the World I knew I was going to the Philippines! What really struck me about this location in particular was the high level of English they speak, there are many activities outside of placement and the hospital is not too big, so you will mostly meet locals there. The departments I decided on were Paediatrics, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, General Surgery and ENT.
I was surprisingly nervous to leave home, especially because I was combining my placement with a long trip to Asia, but it was a really nice perspective to know that I would have housemates and help from WtW once I would get to the Philippines. I arrived the same day as four other girls, which I immediately got on with really well. On our first day we had a tour of the hospital. Just walking through the hospital already made a great impression on me. It was really busy, people were lying in the hallways or standing in massive queues and everyone was looking at us. It became clear immediately how friendly everyone was, both the staff and the patients. Everyone greeted us and the staff seemed excited to meet us.
Once I started my placement, I found out how specialist the work is that this hospital does. It is a government-funded hospital, which is not usual in the Philippines. At home, everyone has healthcare insurance which makes sure that you can receive appropriate healthcare whenever you need it. In Iloilo that is not the case. In this particular hospital, people receive free healthcare because they cannot afford to go a private hospital. This meant that most people who visited the hospital have quite severe conditions and diseases. For example, in the APEX ward I saw children with stomach typhoid and tuberculosis. Additionally, I saw a hugely enlarged thyroid getting removed surgically as well as an open-heart surgery on a ten-year-old girl.
The doctors at the hospital are also forced to improvise a lot. They don’t receive much funding or equipment but still need to complete very complex procedures. The culture is also quite different. At home, we learn a lot about empathy and communicating with patients. In the Philippines, it is expected that the family takes on this role. The doctors are a lot more clinical in their approach to the patient. This became especially clear to me during my week in gynaecology, when the deliveries were mainly focused on being quick and easy. The staff did not communicate much with the mother, she was brought to her family for them to care for her after the birth, while the nurses checked on the baby.
My most memorable moment from my placement was my week in gynaecology and my week in ENT. One day during gynaecology I was with another student at the Programme for Young Parents. Here, we saw many young pregnant girls. The midwife there, was explaining everything to us and eventually let us do Doppler and physical examinations by ourselves but under her supervision.
My week in ENT was also amazing. The ENT team is so friendly and really try and get you involved with everything that they do. They let me sit with them during OPD and translated and explained everything to me where necessary. On top of that I got to do the sutures during the Minor OR, and they helped me every step of the way.
Aside from placement we also had a lot of fun in the Work the World house. Everyone got along really well, and we basically did something together every day. These activities included going to different swimming pools, going to the cinema when it was raining, drinking coffee at our favourite café or bowling with all the WTW staff. We also had our BBQ and karaoke night every week, which we always looked forward to.
On the weekends we usually made a small trip together. The nice thing about the Philippines is that there are islands everywhere that you can visit, which we definitely took advantage of.
The bond with the staff in the house was also really good. They regularly checked on how we were getting on at the hospital - they were also incredibly enthusiastic once the karaoke started!
My advice for people who are interested in this placement is to be open to all the things you might see and the stories you will hear from locals. Don’t be afraid to ask the hospital staff if you can see or do something. In the beginning it can be difficult sometimes, but the people in the Philippines are very polite and friendly and as long as you are proactive, they will get you involved. They are also always happy to help or explain something!
And of course, have a lot of fun! The weeks are over before you know it...