After having completed clinical placements as a student in rural Australia, I was keen to use some of my holidays to experience radiography in another country. As a second year student I also wondered if I could do this as a part of my studies, so I began researching the possibilities.
I found Work the World (WtW) and saw they offered the best options for international radiography placements. I discussed this with my University and they were able to officially recognise the experience as part of a cross cultural subject. So, with approval from my University, I spent two weeks in a medical imaging department within a public hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Through my encounters with Cambodian culture, language and medical imaging practices, I found this to be an extremely rewarding experience. I strongly recommend other students look into an overseas placement.
WtW were great at organising the placement and with providing information and support throughout. They reassured me and my parents about my safety and told me what I could expect. Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, a member of the WtW team was there waiting for me, even though my flight had been delayed an hour!
We went straight to the spacious Work the World house, where I was introduced to the house team as well as to the other students already staying there. The Cambodian WtW team were always friendly and willing to help. On the first day, they took the other new arrivals and I on an orientation tour of the city. It was so different from anywhere I had been before. I have vivid memories of the markets, tuk-tuks, traffic, noises, smells and temples.
Life at the WtW house was comfortable and well organised. We ate breakfast and dinner together as a group and never went hungry! The catering team delighted us each day with amazing and tasty meals.
The language lessons were really fun and helped me interact better with the patients and staff at the hospital. Living with a bunch of other students from the Netherlands, Canada and Australia was really cool, and it gave me an instant group of friends and travel buddies. Some were attending the same placement hospital as me, but in other departments. We spent time talking about our experiences, which allowed me to gain insight into the medical practices outside the scope of just medical imaging.
Within the hospital, the Radiography Department comprised two general X-ray rooms, a CT scanner, an ultrasound room and a mobile machine. Things were actually of a higher standard than I had anticipated. Whilst similar to basic facilities in Australia, the hospital lacked ancillary equipment, and used CR technology and film screen radiography. The lack of resource became even more obvious when I learned that two broken scanners had been left, untouched, for months in a hospital corridor.
I used the opportunity to gain experience with film screen radiography, where images were processed in a dark room. Using older methods of radiography was something I'd never be able to do in Australia.
I was surprised at how patients were looked after by their families—the hospital did not provide them with any food or washing facilities.
I was confronted each day by a high degree of poverty. I was surprised at how patients were looked after by their families—the hospital did not provide them with any food or washing facilities. I was challenged, daily, by the condition of the patients and the lack of infection control at the hospital. Of course, I remained non-judgmental about local practises, and my focus was to remain professional and accept that local staff were doing their best with what they had. It made me very appreciative of Australia’s healthcare system.
At the hospital I spent time with a team of Cambodian radiographers, many of whom could not speak English well. Despite the language barrier, we were able to exchange basic knowledge about medical imaging practices and ourselves, sometimes using social media. I enjoyed having lunch with them each day and learnt about their culture, food and lifestyles. This made me feel part of their team and improved my cultural sensitivity.
In the afternoons and evenings, my housemates and I had fun times doing things like exploring Phnom Penh’s sights and nightlife, playing board games in a sky bar, and buying cheap clothing and souvenirs in the markets.
At weekends, there was much to see and do. I learnt about the shocking and sad history of Cambodia by visiting the “Killing Fields” and Genocide Museum. We also went on a weekend bus trip to Siem Reap, organised with other students from the WtW house. There, we saw Angkor Wat (truly worth it), a floating village, went shopping in the markets, and enjoyed the nightlife of ‘Pub Street’. Siem Reap was one of the highlights of the trip.
The whole experience was extremely valuable to me and my development as a medical imaging professional. I became more confident, and my ability to communicate with people from different countries and cultures has improved greatly. It made me more tolerant of cultural differences, and taught me how to be more respectful and accepting of unfamiliar practices. It was a unique and wonderful experience that gave me a new perspective on radiography as well as on life in general. The things I witnessed will never leave my memory and I made some great new friends.
Remember: the trip is what you make of it. Take every opportunity, learn and have fun. If you have the chance, definitely go on a WtW placement.