Going on an overseas placement was something I had at the back of my mind throughout university. But as the end of my degree approached I realised it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so took action to make it a reality.
I wanted to experience a new culture and observe a different healthcare system. I had never been to South East Asia and thought that this was the perfect opportunity to go. So, at the beginning of the year, a friend and I packed our bags and left Sydney for Cambodia.
After a few connecting flights, we landed in Cambodia and began a frantic dash to our luggage. Once we were through the visa checks, we found ourselves in a bustle of local taxi drivers trying to win our business.
Within the crowd, we saw the bright blue t-shirt we had been told to look out for. It gave us instant relief to see that a member of the local Work the World team had been sent to collect us.
On our first day, the local team took us on an orientation around the city centre. That was where I had my first ride on a tuk tuk—It was amazing!
The following day, the Work the World team took us on a tour of our placement hospital.
Our placement started the following day. It was crowded with beds and patients as the hospital had recently demolished a building ready to make way for a new one and space was limited.
There were two main wings, Medicine A for patients who could not afford to pay hospital fees and medicine B, for paying who could. It was saddening to see, as back home most healthcare services are covered by our government.
However, it was uplifting to see that all the doctors and nurses—regardless of which department they were in—tried their level best to provide care with the limited resources that they had.
The pharmacy was different to what I imagined. Patients’ families lined up in front of the pharmacy every day to pick up medication. The pharmacy had a list of essential medications provided by the government, but when we went to the storage rooms there was only a few bottles on the shelves. It was hard to imagine how the hospital functioned with such limited supplies.
We saw families giving their loved ones medication they’d bought from the private sector. I asked to look into one of their medication bags to see what they’d bought and saw that a bottle of Albumin cost the equivalent of about $40USD!
We wanted to see the rest of the hospital to get a better understanding of the overall system, so the head pharmacist organised for us to visit different wards. Our liaison took us to the Cardiology Ward and the ICU. To my surprise, we were handed only a disposable cap then were able to walk freely into the ICU. Infection control back in Australia would never allow this.
It was difficult to see the healthcare inequalities between Cambodia and Australia. But again, seeing local staff doing everything they could with what little they had made me appreciate what we have at home.
During my trip, I met students from around the world and we quickly became friends. After placements at the hospital we unwound at the Work the World house, and in the evenings and at weekends we went everywhere together, from local markets to rooftop pools.
Me and a friend booked ourselves plane tickets to Siem Reap. When we got there, we explored the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. It was breathtaking to see the history of the Khmer empire preserved in the intricate jungle temples. It was also our chance to see a different side of Cambodia, away from the bustle of Phnom Penh. We used the (admittedly limited) Khmer we learnt from the language lessons in the Work the World house to navigate around the city!
What I really love about Work the World is that they are with you all the way. Whether you are travelling as a pair, a group, or just by yourself, Work the World make sure you’re safe the entire trip.
It was everything I imagined the experience to be and more. I learnt lots, made friends and had fun. What more could I ask?
I am grateful to have had such incredible experiences, made fond memories, and to have grown as a person.
If you’re considering going on a placement, or even if you’re hesitating like I did, just go for it!