Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal by Tate Besougloff
Namaste! My name is Tate Besougloff and I’m a pre-medical student from the US. Like all pre-med students, I am constantly looking for ways to expand my knowledge of the medical field while making myself a unique applicant for medical schools. So in the summer of 2013, I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad on a Medical placement.
Initially, I wasn’t sure which country I wanted to go to. The more research I did, however, the more I became interested in Nepal. Nestled between the jagged peaks of the Himalayas and the semi-tropic jungles of the Terai, it seemed like no other place in the world. After reading the overwhelmingly positive volunteer testimonials, my mind was made up.
Landing in Kathmandu
I arrived in Kathmandu in mid-May. Although I had volunteered abroad before, this was my first foreign experience alone. “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought as I rode in an arranged taxi from the airport to Hotel Excelsior, where volunteers typically spend their first night. The short drive can be quite a shock if you’re not used to the hectic city roads, but thanks to the excellent support given by Projects Abroad, the feeling did not last long. At the hotel, I was given a thorough orientation that quickly restored my confidence. After a few days in the country, I wondered why I had ever been worried in the first place!
My Medical Placement
My placement was at Alka Hospital in Patan. Alka is organised into several wards including Emergency, Outpatient, General Ward, Private Ward, ICU, Post-Op and the Operating Theatres. On my first day, I was given a schedule that included time in each ward. For the first week or so, I followed that schedule. Once I developed an understanding of each ward, however, it became clear that I would be exposed to the unique medical scenarios that I had come to see in certain wards more than others. I spoke with my supervisor about this, and he had no problem allowing me to customise my schedule to include more time in the wards that were more to my liking.
The doctors I shadowed during my placement were helpful and knowledgeable. They went out of their way to explain any medical condition that I did not fully understand, and were more than willing to answer any of my questions. Beyond that, they were simply friendly and interesting people. I would often have lengthy discussions about sports, literature, or my perceptions of Nepal with the doctors while they were not busy treating patients.
My day at Alka began at 10am. I usually chose to spend the morning in either the outpatient department or the emergency ward. These wards had a greater number of patients coming and going, so if I spent my time there I would see a greater variety of medical cases.
Alka has a small café where I would have lunch with other volunteers, and then I would typically spend the afternoon in either ICU or Post-Op. My hours ended at 4pm, but if an operation was scheduled for that afternoon I might stay late to observe. I was able to see several surgical procedures, and was amazed at how close the surgeons let me get to the patient. Most of the time, I was within a foot of the operating table!
Host Family and Weekend Trips
My host family lived in Patan, about 30 minutes from Alka by foot. They were kind, open people who welcomed me into their home and provided me with every accommodation I could need. Something that took me by surprise was how friendly and outgoing the 10-year-old son of my host parents was. He and I would kick around the football or watch wrestling nearly every day. Coming home from my placement, it almost felt like having a younger brother who can’t wait to play!
On weekends, I travelled around Nepal to visit some of the popular tourist destinations in the country. Projects Abroad has a monthly schedule of planned trips that volunteers can sign up for, and an advantage of booking these trips is that you meet other volunteers from around the world.
My first weekend, I trekked to a town called Nagarkot where I had scenic views of the snow-capped Himalayas. The next weekend, I visited Chitwan Park in the Terai region. With several of the volunteers I had met in Chitwan, I went rafting and bungee jumping at the Last Resort the following weekend. Later in my trip, I participated in a special rice planting event through Projects Abroad as well.
My trip to Nepal had two parts. I spent a month at Alka with Projects Abroad, and then went trekking in the Himalayas for three additional weeks. Because I would not be a volunteer after the first month, I was slightly concerned about losing the safety net provided by being with Projects Abroad, just in case I needed support from people who were more familiar with the country. Turns out, my concerns were unjustified. When I returned from the trek, I was treated with the same support I had before I left. Projects Abroad arranged my transportation to the airport and even allowed me to participate in planned events that were only for volunteers.
I loved every minute of my time in Nepal. The people I met and the experiences I had changed me, and I’ll remember my trip with fondness for the rest of my life. To others considering volunteering there, I urge you to do yourself a huge favour and go for it. There are probably very few countries with as much to do within a few hours of the capital city, and fewer still with people as friendly and interesting as those you will meet in Nepal. Projects Abroad makes travelling effortless, and if you approach everything you do there with enthusiasm, it has the potential to be the trip of a lifetime.