December 2018 | Issue 39
Overseas Elective: Worlds apart, yet the heart for medicine remains unchanged

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By Sunil Ravinder Gill, Class of 2019


From August to October this year, the Year 5 students had the opportunity to visit different countries for their Overseas Elective Programme. I had the good fortune of being attached to the Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital in Naya-Raipur, India. The hospital is a Centre for Paediatric Cardiac Care, which provides diagnostic and interventional paediatric cardiology and cardiac surgical treatment free of charge to all patients.

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Sunil doing a check-up on several children at the Centre for Paediatric Cardia Care in Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital, Naya-Raipur, India

Every year, nearly 180,000 children are born in India with congenital heart defects. Of these, 60,000-90,000 children suffer from critical disease requiring early intervention. The vast majority of these children's families are unable to afford treatment even at subsidised government & charity hospitals. Many of these children suffer from complications such as recurrent infections, impairment in their cognitive and motor development as well as poor physical health. Few children survive past infancy and those who do will often pass away at an early age.

My time at the Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital was truly an eye-opener and I had the privilege to shadow doctors from the four different departments — Cardiac Surgery, Cardiology, Cardiac Anaesthesiology and Public Health. Coming from the large tertiary multi-speciality hospitals of Singapore to a specialist charity hospital in rural India, I was pleasantly surprised to see the standard of care provided at the hospital. The entire hospital staff, from the porters and gardeners to the doctors and nurses, were all very enthusiastic and motivated to provide the best care and environment for their patients.

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Sunil learning a lot from both patients and doctors at the hospital

Given the sheer volume of patients that the hospital sees – their waitlist for operations extends till 2021 – I had the opportunity to see a multitude of patients with conditions and presentations that one would not normally see in Singapore and the corrective / palliative surgeries to treat these. It was touching to witness how grateful the families were to the team for taking care of their child. Some of the families travelled for more than a week just to visit the hospital with the hope that the team would be able to do something for their child. I also had the opportunity of assisting in the operating theatre and observing in the clinics where the doctors patiently took the time to teach me and show me a wide variety of conditions.

In addition to time spent in the hospital, I followed the public health team out into the community to assist them during their school health screenings. I got to see how the team was able to tie community medicine in with tertiary care and how they worked with the government and partner hospitals to provide excellent healthcare to the children in the state.

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Left to right: Sunil assisting the publich health team to do their school health screenings; 
The Cultural and educational centre stands tall beside the hospital

My greatest takeaway from this experience was from observing the selfless nature with which the team members cared for their patients. The entire team, from doctors to administrators, work very long hours, 6-7 days a week, to provide the best care for their patients. They promote high standards among themselves and the staff, to ensure each and every child is well cared for, with the best chance to live. Indeed, they truly believe in the work that they do. Seeing the little ones' functions improve so remarkably after their surgeries and interventions served as a timely reminder for me as to why I chose this path. Having gained so much from this experience, I am truly grateful for the opportunity I was given to spend time at Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital.

I created a short video for the hospital showcasing their public health screening and how it ties in with the tertiary care they provide. Do watch it!