I chose to do my placement in Mexico, as it was a country that I had always wanted to visit.
Combining a dream trip with my university studies was ideal. It really allowed me to develop my Spanish which was a large factor in my decision to travel to Mexico.
Mexico is still a developing country and I was really interested in the different forms of clinical practice, technology and culture I would encounter because of this.
I must admit, my first impression of the hospital left me feeling a little taken aback. I had read many reviews and listened to advice on what to expect when arriving at the hospital, but nothing compares to experiencing it in-person.
It was a professional culture far removed from what I was used to in England.
The hospital was constantly busy with large queues in every department. Patients lined the corridors and staff had to wait in order to walk in single file past them. It was a professional culture far removed from what I was used to in England.
Staff in the radiology department were qualified as technicians and gained their qualifications through two years of study at what is equivalent to a college in England. Consequently, no technicians that I encountered had the opportunity to learn English, unlike the doctors. However, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to speak Spanish daily as it has definitely improved my conversational skills and given me an advantage.
My advice would be to try your best to use what Spanish you know and make an effort to communicate and assist with examinations. The staff appreciated it a lot and it made it so much easier to build good relationships with them.
The equipment was very different from what I was used to in England. Most of the equipment would be considered out-dated, and dysfunctional. But, this meant I developed my ability to actively think and adapt when assisting with otherwise simple exams.
It was my first experience of seeing a hospital use film in conjunction with Computer Radiography (CR) that had only two functioning cassettes. The fluoroscopy room was completely broken and therefore ‘Out of Order’, there was only one portable X-ray machine for the entire hospital, and there was no MRI scanner.
I observed a range of patients, from those who had suffered extreme trauma to those who hobbled along with wooden crutches that I had only seen in animated movies. The whole experience was very surreal as each patient was different and I never knew who would walk into the room next.
After speaking with the Work the World team, and later the head of the radiology department while I was in Mexico, I was able to discuss what departments I wanted to experience. I suggested CT and sonography in my second week and the team were very accommodating and quickly organised where I should go to gain the best experience.
On Monday and Wednesday mornings, I observed paediatric CT which was valuable to me as my UK placement site has no paediatrics.
Patients came from all over Mexico and even neighbouring countries such as Guatemala, Belize and Honduras to receive the exams.
I observed a young child with crossed renal ectopia (kidneys on the same side of the body) which I had never seen before, amongst other very ill children and many very large renal calculi.
The biggest differences between the British healthcare system and Mexico’s is sanitation. During my entire stay, I never saw the technicians sanitise their hands or equipment in any departments. The hospital has very high infection rates, so when I asked about this the staff said that the hospital doesn’t give the department any supplies due to lack of money. At the end of my trip, I went to a large local supermarket and donated hand-sanitizer, sterile wipes and alcohol solution for the equipment.
There was also very poor radiation protection regulations. Staff and relatives were frequently allowed to stay in the X-ray and CT room without lead protection. The lead door was left open during exposures and the single lead gowns in X-ray and CT were broken and rarely used.
The technicians infrequently adapted their collimation and it was usually left fully open even during extremity exams. As the week went on, I become more confident to exchange knowledge around radiation protection practises and gave instructions to the patients in Spanish.
My evenings were free for me to do as I pleased, so I enjoyed spending time experiencing the Yucatan culture with my housemates.
We would often meet with other students and socialise together. This ranged from shorter trips (bowling, visiting the beach, going to bars – a highlight being the local salsa bar Mezcalaria), to longer trips (visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza and exploring the picturesque city of Mérida).
On the weekend we had the time to go on even longer trips, and stayed in a hostel on Isla Mujeres. Whilst there, we went snorkelling, visited a turtle sanctuary, enjoyed the local barbeque cuisine on the beach, and hired a golf buggy to drive around the island. It was such a beautiful location, and we even got up in time to see the sunrise.
On another weekend, we travelled to Cancún to stay in a hotel. Again, we relaxed on the beach or by the pool, and we even booked a trip to the National Park. Here we had the opportunity to swim with turtles and visit the Cenote Xibalba. This is an underground lake and river, traditionally referred to as ‘The Place of Fear’, which the Ancient Mayans believed was the entrance to the Underworld, where the Gods of Death and their Servants reside.
Travelling alone for the first time gave me so much more confidence and independence.
Overall, this was a trip of a lifetime. Travelling alone for the first time gave me so much more confidence and independence. I feel I have made life-long friends with the people I lived with in the Work the World house and I met so many amazing people throughout the duration of my stay.
Gaining experience in the hospital gave me an insight into the way other countries work that few others have the opportunity to see and understand. It made me much more appreciative of what we have in the UK and of our healthcare system.
As someone who enjoys travelling, this trip has fulfilled many of my expectations and much more. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone seeking personal or professional development and even to those who would love to explore and see more of the world.