Eamonn Lim - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
I am currently 19 years old and on a gap year between college and studying medicine in London, UK. I’d volunteered in Borneo before and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to do more, therefore decided to spend 6 weeks in Nepal.
The Projects Abroad team advised me how to adjust to life in Nepal, but nothing could prepare me for the heat, wonderful aromas of food, the colourful shops and the choking fumes of the traffic. Nepal overloaded my senses and I knew from the very start my six week stay would be a memorable experience.
Living in Chitwan
My placement was based in the town of Bharatpur in the district of Chitwan. The city is quite small compared to Kathmandu and is built around a central main road. There is also the Chitwan National park which is around 30 minute drive away, where you can see wildlife.
My host family in Chitwan were very kind and understanding. Whenever I felt uncomfortable about my habits from the UK, the host father would reassure me that they did not mind - Nepali people are very laid back. I did not find there to be a language barrier as long as I spoke slowly and clearly.
My Medicine Placement
I worked at Chitwan Medical College Teaching Hospital (CMC), which was a 30 minute walk from my host family. Being a pre-medical student with no training I was to only observe doctors and nurses. I thought it would be similar to the UK medical work experience, following one doctor who would spoon-feed me information combined with a very strict patient confidentiality regime. I was surprised to find it was actually the complete opposite.
My first week was spent in ER (emergency room). The ward accommodated around 30 beds, each designated for triage. I was not assigned to a doctor so I had the freedom to wander around and see different cases. I was also free to look at patient notes, use the computer to research, and to take vitals of any patients not being seen to. All of the patient notes are in English as the medical course in Nepal is taught in English.
I usually arrived at 9am and stayed till 2/3 pm. Throughout the week I became friends with the staff and they allowed me to help give IV therapy and assist doctors with suturing. The Nepali people (staff and patients) were all very friendly and were always trying to teach me the Nepali language. They always smiled and laughed throughout the shift, quite a contrast to the solemn doctors back home. I enjoyed ER a lot, and gained a lot of experience.
The care system is all privatised in Nepal. If patients want a diagnosis they must purchase a ticket for 200 Nepali rupees (£1.50). A family member of the patient must buy all the implements used by the doctor (e.g. cannulas, medication), and has to care for the patient for their stay in the hospital.
The other departments I saw were: Operating Theatre (OT), Dermatology ward, Maternity ward and Dentistry. In all of these wards, I had freedom to come and go as I pleased. The doctors and nurses were all nice in each ward but I had to take the initiative to talk to them before they explained anything to me.
The first surgery I saw in OT was a vaginal hysterectomy. I saw a variety of surgeries during my stay, ranging from bone reductions for fractures to nasal endoscopies. The surgeons did not mind where I stood as long as it was out of the way.
I observed dentistry in a health camp within the national park. It was a day trip, where volunteers, doctors and nurses left from the hospital to go to nearby villages and offer free healthcare. With limited equipment, the dentist was only able to remove teeth or advise the patient on dental care. The health camp was completely packed, and we could only leave once everyone had been seen.
Travelling at the Weekend
I am happy that my whole Nepal experience was not limited to hospital based work. I met a lot of awesome volunteers from all over the world who all helped me learn about healthcare in other countries.
During my stay, I managed to go to Lumbini, Kathmandu, Pokhara and the Last Resort as I chose not to work during the weekends. Trekking in Nepal is a must. Our group of six decided to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek without Poon Hill in 7 days. The views were spectacular, the air was clean and crisp, and the sense of achievement was satisfying.
Overall, my Nepal experience was unforgettable. I feel that I left more mature, open minded and confident. I thoroughly enjoyed working in the hospital and the change of lifestyle. I hope you embrace Nepal and have as much fun as I did!