UQ Medical School student experiences the magic of India

Graduate from university with a bachelor’s degree. Check!

Get into an Australian medical school. Check!

Do your elective somewhere interesting… say, India. Check!

We’ve recently profiled an OzTREKK student who is currently studying medicine at the University of Queensland Medical School—but who has recently been to India for his four-week medical elective! Despite his busy schedule, this medical student was kind enough to share his story. In our first article, “UQ Medical School student does his elective in India” featured this dedicated student, where he offered his advice to future UQ Medical School students regarding elective placements.

Now, after spending four weeks in India, he is travelling through southeast Asia on his time off from school, and has kindly provided OzTREKK and you with a firsthand account of his experiences in India!

UQ Medical School
Taj Mahal
My first week of elective was spent in the general surgery department. The week was divided into consultations Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the outpatient department (OPD), and surgery on Tuesday and Friday. The OPD consisted of me sitting next to one of the surgeons while the doctor was taking the patient’s history. Since the doctor and patient were speaking Hindi, in opportune moments I would ask questions to the doctor: “What is the presenting complaint? Are the symptoms acute or chronic?” The doctors were extremely accommodating and friendly. They would ask me questions like, “What are the differentials for pain in the epigastric region?” or “What is Murphy’s sign?” etc. It was really cool actually seeing what we were learning about only a few months earlier.

“The surgeons’ stamina was impressive.”

 

UQ Medical School
The Golden Temple in Amritsar

And then there were the surgeries. I was allowed to scrub in and get a good view of the procedures, sometimes better than the residents. Again, it was rewarding to actually see living anatomy—what the small intestine looks like, the liver, etc. on a living human being. The surgeries consisted of a lot of hernioplasties and laparoscopic cholecystectomies (gallbladder removal), but I also saw an excision of a dermoid cyst—look that one up!

After my first week, I was wiped. But I knew I was in India only for a month, and on the weekends I wanted to go sightseeing. On my first weekend I went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. That building is the most beautiful monument I have ever seen, and it’s fitting that it was built as a monument to love, for the then Raj’s third wife. I forgot the name already! Our guide was not great; he was rushing us through the monument so he could take us to his friends’ shops afterward so he could get a commission. After that, I stopped hiring guides to monuments.
UQ Medical School
Missed the Dalai Lama by less than 24 hours!
My second week was spent in the radiology department. After surgery and seeing anatomy, I wanted more exposure to something completely different. I spent the week with radiologists looking at images from ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans and X-rays. It was really hard to pinpoint abnormalities, and I admire radiologists; they seemed really smart. But I can’t see myself being one.

Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I definitely know that now.

And then came the weekend: I decided to fly up to Amritsar after the horrendous drive to Agra the previous weekend. I had forgotten to mention that I hired a driver to the Taj Mahal, a five-hour, one-way journey from Delhi, and it was crazy. We hit a small cow on the drive back. Good thing it was small; it only slightly crumpled the hood of the driver’s car. So I flew to Amritsar to see the Golden Temple, the holiest site in the Sikh religion. It was magnificent—a golden temple that appeared like it was floating on the holy pool surrounding it.

When I was at my hostel, I found out I could get to Dharamsala by hiring a driver. Even though I vowed never again to ride in a car for long distances in India, I had to go see where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile sat. Again, another long drive, but it was so beautiful through the foothills at the steps of the Himalayas. I knew the Himalayas were tall, but I never imagined they could be that big. I’m from Calgary—I would spend my weekends snowboarding in the Rockies, but they look like little pimples compared to the Himalayas!

UQ Medical School
Rowing on the Ganges in Varanasi

When I got to Dharamsala, I saw a notice that His Holiness was conducting a rare public teaching the following morning, but I had to leave that night to get back to the hospital for Monday morning. I wasn’t even expecting to see him, but I was so close. I know the Dalai Lama wouldn’t have wanted me to get too attached and distressed that I did not get to see him.

“It was a bit of a shock—the poverty, the abysmal living conditions.”

 

My third week was spent in the orthopaedics department. The layout was similar to the general surgery unit and OPD, with consultations in the OPD Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and surgeries on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This was a busy department. On surgery days, the surgeons were working from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m.! Thankfully, I didn’t have to stay for that whole amount of time. The surgeons’ stamina was impressive. By the time noon rolled around, my feet and knees were aching and I would take a seat next to the anesthetist. It was great because they were teaching me about what they did and I felt like I was getting exposed to two departments at once.

Once the weekend rolled along, I took an overnight train to Varanasi along the banks of the Ganges. This was the India I had dreamed about. There are temples (called “ghats”) along the river and all sorts of activities occur there, depending on the ghat. There were cremating ghats, and that was a bit of a shock to see in broad daylight. There were more mundane areas were people were washing themselves, their buffalo. It was a very interesting place. I spent most of my time walking up and down the riverbank and also hired a boat and guide and rowed up and down the Ganges. I took turns with the oarsman paddling. The Indians on the riverbank got a kick out of it, and asked how much I charged for my boat tour, ha ha!

Sydney Dental School
The Amber Fort in Jaipur, Rajahstan

My final week was spent in community health going out to a clinic affiliated with the hospital that was based in a slum area situated northeast of Delhi. All sorts of programs were run out of this clinic: child vaccination programs, a tuberculosis program, and a mobile clinic where we drove out to the slum areas to distribute medicines to the locals who were immobile. It was a bit of a shock—the poverty, the abysmal living conditions. But the clinic was doing amazing work and had made a really positive impact on the community from what I could see. I was sad to say goodbye to the doctors who were so sharing and friendly, and to the cute little kids who were coming in for their vaccinations.

For my last weekend, I wanted to go to the state of Rajahstan. My Lonely Planet said that this was the iconic Indian state, with colourful saris, spice markets, amazing food and fairy tale fortresses. I arrived in Jaipur from the night train and once I exited the train station, was swarmed—borderline harassed—by rickshaw drivers wanting a fare. I wanted to get out of there to my hotel ASAP.

“I was sad to say goodbye to the doctors who were so sharing and friendly, and to the cute little kids who were coming in for their vaccinations.”

 

Jaipur, the capital of Rajahstan, was nice. It’s nicknamed the “Pink City” for the pink exteriors of the old city. It looked more reddish salmon to me. The forts were cool. I went to Amber Fort and it did look like something out of a fairy tale, but I think I was ready to leave.
UQ Medical School
Flat tire on the Rajpath in New Delhi

UQ Medical School
Old Delhi railway station


So my experience in India was enriching. The doctors were really friendly and of high caliber, not to mention the patients. India is frenetic and high paced, and there is never a dull moment. But beware: in tourist areas you are constantly hollered at and stared at—and the attention you get is incredible. At times I was so frustrated, but the best thing I found was smiling, walking fast, and saying, “No thank you.” The metro is easily the best way to get around the city, but is insanely busy. Also, beware of pickpockets! My fellow elective student had his iPhone swiped.

UQ Medical School
Elephants carrying tourists to Amber Fort
A lot of the Indians I met were great, but around those working out of tourist areas and metro areas, people who want to sell you things, I kept a strong guard. And in regard to the educational component, I learned a lot, but I also realized that coming out of first year, my knowledge base was really limited, so it is important to keep that in mind. I wasn’t going to perform surgeries by the end of my elective, but I was going to learn as much as I could… and I got to eat the best butter chicken I had ever had in my life! Anmol Chicken Corner next to Jama Masjid in Old Delhi.

About the UQ Medical School Program

Program:  Doctor of Medicine (MD) commencing 2015
Location: Brisbane or Ipswich, Queensland
Semester intake: January
Duration: 4 years
Application deadline: Applications for the January 2015 intake are expected to open in early 2014. Please contact Australian Medical Schools Admissions Officer Miss Broghan Dean at broghan@oztrekk.com for details about the MD program at UQ Medical School.



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