I am currently studying Medicine in Australia and after completion of our fifth year we are required to do an elective in our summer holidays. I did my placement in December 2011 in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
My friend and I decided to go to Sri Lanka because we’d heard so many great things about the country from friends of ours who had been there. We also wanted to go somewhere we had never been before, and somewhere that wasn’t overcrowded with tourists. We had organised a Medical elective in Galle and had booked our return flights to Colombo. Unfortunately, a month before we were meant to depart for Colombo (right in the middle of our exams) our elective was cancelled by the university we had organised it through.
We were stressed and did not have a lot of time to organise alternative plans. We had heard about Work the World through a friend who had organised a placement through them, so we sent an enquiry and Work the World got back to us straight away. They helped us get a Business Visa on time and arranged electives for us in our chosen fields, working around our flight dates.
My elective was in the Paediatrics Department, and my friend was in obstetrics and gynaecology. We arrived at the Colombo airport at midnight to find Nili (our Assistant Program Manager) waiting for us with a big smile; we jumped in the car and went straight to Negombo where we were to spend our first night. Nili made us feel at home straight away – she is so friendly and bubbly!
The next morning we explored the scenic beach that we had spied from our hotel balcony, had some lunch and then hopped on a train to Kandy. I didn’t have very high expectations for the public train but the view along the way was incredible! When we arrived in Kandy we made our way up the hill through the masses of palm trees to the beautiful five-bedroom house that we were going to call home for the next two weeks.
After the initial shock of being presented with a hospital that has no air conditioning, wide open windows with no fly screens, and not a drop of alcohol gel in site, I found a lot of similarities to our public hospitals back home! I attended morning ward rounds at 9am with the other medical students (who were extremely diligent and seemed to know a lot more than I did albeit them being a couple years below me in their medical degree).
I saw a lot of patients with conditions I had never seen before outside of a textbook like dengue haemorrhagic fever and rheumatic fever. I had the opportunity to palpate a lot of hepatosplenomegaly in the thalassemia ward. Even though none of the children spoke English I was impressed with how well behaved they were and how willing they were to sit up, lie down, breathe in and out through their mouth, and follow my instructions in sign language.
My supervising consultant was very lovely and willing to show me lots of physical signs. I attended some really interesting tutorials with the medical students, mostly on topics related to tropical diseases, which are lacking from the curriculum at my medical course back home.
Exploring the Country
In the afternoons after placement and on weekends we spent our time being tourists. We went to an elephant orphanage and rode elephants. We went to a tea plantation and purchased 7kg worth of the world’s best tea. One afternoon we got our weeks’ worth of exercise and climbed Sigiriya. We also explored Kandy and spent a lot of time shopping at the markets, and paid a visit to the Temple of the Tooth. During the weekends we went to the Galle Fort, had cocktails brought to us by waiters while lying on the picturesque beaches of Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna (life is hard), and were lucky enough to glimpse two leopards whilst on safari at Yala National Park.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. It’s small so I felt we had sufficient time to see and do most of the things we wanted to in two weeks. There are many beautiful beaches, and the weather is perfect for sunbathing! The curries are delicious – make sure to order with rice, pappadums and of course, coconut sambol. Since the civil war has been over for a while, central and south Sri Lanka are now very safe to travel to and we did not once worry about our safety while we were there. The locals are very friendly and inquisitive. You will meet a lot of lovely and amazing of people who are willing to share their unique culture with you.
I can’t wait to return one day!