As soon as I saw Cambodia featured on the Work the World website I knew this was the place for me to go and do my medical placement abroad. I was incredibly curious about the country, the people and their healthcare system.
After a 15 hour trip, I arrived by at Phnom Penh Airport and I put on my blue Work the World t-shirt so that the Work the World team could recognise me. The programme manager was waiting for me and together we travelled to the house... my home for the next five weeks! On the way, he told me a lot about the city. I was excited by my first impressions.
During my time in Cambodia, the Work the World House was a haven of peace in this BUSTLING city. It is a beautiful house that ONCE to functionED as a Chinese embassy.
The first day in the hospital was exciting. It was so different to hospitals back home. It is hard to describe to someone who has not been there, but it is very busy (and hot - there are no doors or windows).
During the first 2 weeks, I was in the surgery department. There were four operating rooms that were occupied most of the time. I was allowed to see what surgeries were happening and I could then choose which ones I was most interested in, I was then allowed to observe. The surgeons were always very enthusiastic and would explain to me what they were doing. The first week I was purely watching operations, the second week, as the surgeons regonised me and we built up rapport, they allowed me to become more involved - super cool!
After two weeks of surgery, I then spent another two weeks in the emergency department. In emergency, there was a lot of bone fractures, road traffic accidents and construction accidents. It was always busy.
In this department I gained a lot of knowledge about how the healthcare system works in Cambodia.
We travelled every weekend and soon discovered a lot more of Cambodia. You cannot leave Cambodia until you have visited Siem Riep and Angkor Wat. Cambodians are proud to have the largest religious temple in the world in their country; it is beautiful and immense and really a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you are lucky - like we were, you can even watch the sunrise over the temple.
Ta Prom is also stunning, it is often better known as the Tomb Raider Temple as the film was made here in 2001. Here, tree roots have taken possession of the temple, which gives it a beautiful look.
Another weekend we went to Koh Rong Sanloem where we spent a wonderful relaxing weekend on a paradise island. It really is an island like you see on TV adverts, white-sand beaches and crystal blue seas. We stayed in a beautiful cottage on the beach, waking up in the morning to the sun rising above the sea. This really was amazing!
The last week of my stay in Cambodia I participated in the Village Healthcare Experience. For a week we stayed with a Work the World guide and a host family in a village in the countryside about 2 hours drive from Phnom Penh. The family was so nice and hospitable and their 4 year old daughter was extremly excited to have new playmates. Each morning we went to the healthcare clinic in the village. It was not as busy as the city hospital but a lot more rural with limited supplies and equipment. In the afternoons we went to do cultural things like helping out in the rice fields of the family, we climbed the local mountain which had a staggeringly beautiful view from the top. My village healthcare week was a great experience, and I would definitely recommend anyone considering a placement in Cambodia to consider. It is a total contrast to the busy city placement of Phnom Penh.
I was in Cambodia for 5 weeks; 4 weeks in the hospital, in two different departments, and one week at the village healthcare experience. If you stay in a department for two weeks, you'll notice that the doctors and nurses recognise you and gain more confidence in you as an individual. You can not only see an awful lot more, but ultimately do a lot more, too.
"don't doubt it, just do it!"
It may seem very challenging and even scary, but it is so worth it! You do not have to worry about being alone, because the other students in the Work the World house are all in the same boat, and you'll find you will all travel together at weekends which is so much fun. You will also learn so much, not only in the medical field, but also on a personal level.
If you've made the right decision and decide to travel to the beautiful country of Cambodia, I would give the following tip: Be proactive, confident and forthcoming. You will hear this from the Work the World team before you go to your destination, but it really is true. Put yourself forward, build relationships with your supervisors and you will get so much more out of your placement.
Plus, don't forget - enjoy it, because before you know it you'll be back home again.