We are two medical students from Sydney who travelled to Nepal for a four-week medical elective placement. We landed in Kathmandu after a long overnight flight very tired, so coming out of the airport to find our hosts, Bijuli and Sunita, waiting with a Nepali flag and traditional welcome was wonderful. Their homestay was welcoming from the start and we always felt supported. Bijuli was always available to answer any questions, help us out with Nepali phrases or give us directions for buses.
As you can imagine, our first morning in Nepal was full of mixed feelings – the concerns of a new country, a new hospital, combined with a great sense of support from our host family. We walked the short distance to the hospital where we met the staff; they were welcoming and well set-up for us. Our supervisors took a genuine interest in what we wanted to learn and introducing us to the fantastic staff that gave us such a wonderful time there. We were able to watch the working of a busy ER, to see surgeries in many fields, and even see the deliveries of a few babies. The young Medical Officers and Nurses were some of the friendliest people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting; taking time both to teach us, learn about our home country and have a laugh. We were sad to leave them; we learnt a lot that will help us in our professional careers and in our lives.
The second hospital we visited during our medical elective was a larger teaching hospital in Kathmandu. As a result, it has a wonderful predilection toward teaching, and a wealth of both junior and senior doctors who are welcoming, but also push you to perform! Our time there was mostly spent in the Emergency Department, as the rest of the hospital shut down during the Tihar Festival – we saw some interesting cases and some fantastic clinical work there. However, we were also able to spend time in their renowned General Surgical Department; to be honest, I had expected the typical stern and severe surgeons that one imagines when thinking of the Operating Theatre. I can happily say that I was very wrong. We were surprised when the Unit Chief of Surgery invited us to sit in his Clinic Room, explaining diagnoses and managements to patients and to us as he went. Between seeing patients in the Outpatient Department, there were jokes and introductions to some Residents with whom we have stayed friends. As a result of these great welcomes to the ER and Surgical Department, walking around the hospital each day brought a slew of familiar faces and smiles from the doctors and nurses we had met. They were always happy to see us, asking how our day had been and if we wanted to come see an interesting case or two. Both hospitals made for fantastic learning experiences, as well as a great opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds. If we ever came back to Nepal, we would almost feel beholden to drop by both hospitals to say hi to our old friends!
Back to our hosts and time outside the hospital, Bijuli’s help with organising trips to Chitwan, Pokhara as well as outings in Kathmandu and Banepa was invaluable. We joined a walking group for a hike in Banepa, walked to see many sunrises, and visited the Monkey Temple and Durbar Square. We took some time off from the hospital to venture further afield to Chitwan and Pokhara. Bijuli organised everything from the buses to meals and accommodation. Chitwan was a fun few days of walking in the jungle, canoeing and going on a safari! Pokhara was very relaxing, visiting Sarangkot for sunrise to the see the Annapurna mountain range, the Peace Pagoda and paddling on Phewa lake were just a few of the highlights. Visiting during Tihar, we were able to get involved and had a great time looking around at all the colourful lights and celebrations.
The food was fantastic, a highlight was learning how to cook chapati and vegetable curry with Sunita. The momos she prepared were the best we tasted and definitely a favourite. We are very grateful for all the time Sunita spent preparing meals and ensuring we got to try many different dishes, we feel as though we got to experience real Nepali food and we have many new favourites heading home.
On our second last day in Nepal, Bijuli and Sunita organised one of our best experiences in the country. We got up early and caught a tuk-tuk to a nearby Government secondary school. We were greeted at the gate by many excited faces pressed up against the bars, trying to get a good look at us. After receiving a traditional Nepali welcome and meeting many of the teachers, we were introduced to the kids. We checked their vitals, as well as performing a quick cardiopulmonary exam to give them a basic check-up. Following this, our homestay hosts provided us toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap to give to each child. It was as grateful as I have seen a group of children, and it made us feel like we may have made a difference that day.
Looking back on our time in Nepal, I look back to a question asked to me just before sunrise by Bijuli on one of our many walks – has this lived up to what you expected? I can say it did. It exceeded our expectations and taught us much; it was a fulfilling experience and we’d recommend it to anyone and everyone!
For more details on doing a medical elective in Nepal, visit: https://doctours.com.au/student-specials/volunteer-in-nepal/