By Rachel Lim, Class of 2018
When we were first briefed about our Electives and Selectives in September 2016, I remember having a lot of anxiety over choosing the ‘best’ overseas elective. I knew I wanted an experience that I would not be able to have in Singapore; somewhere I have not been before, so that I can expand my boundaries and broaden my perspectives about people and the practice of medicine.
Eventually, I chose to split my elective between doing Paediatrics in Colombo, Sri Lanka, so as to experience healthcare in a developing country with generally low health literacy, followed by Acute Medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, to experience healthcare in a developed country away from Singapore.
My experiences in both countries were extremely different. Colombo was busy, hot and chaotic at times. My daily commute was a tuk-tuk ride weaving through busy roads, with car horns blaring all the time. There was a dengue epidemic at the time, and the wards and clinics were overcrowded, with some patients having to share hospital beds or makeshift beds on the floor. I saw mothers consoling their scared children, tending to their every need, and sharing tips with fellow mothers about breastfeeding and home making.
As I walked past them on ward rounds, they would nod at me and smile, as though thanking me for caring for their children even when I did nothing to deserve it. Being the only Chinese in the entire hospital, stares were common, but I never felt like a stranger as these stares would quickly evolve into warm smiles and friendly conversations in often broken English about where I came from and what I was learning.
Memories of my time in Sri Lanka with my mentors (left) and exploring the island (right)
Edinburgh, on the other hand, was slow-paced, cold and orderly. The general wards were quiet, and patients rested on their beds reading the newspaper or sipping their afternoon tea. As we rounded, patients always greeted us with a friendly "Hiya!" or "How are you doing?", and even those in poor health would rally a smile and answer all my questions earnestly as I clerked them. The patients I saw in Edinburgh generally had a very high level of health literacy and the doctors would always engage them about their condition and further management.
Through my electives, I began to understand how different socioeconomic factors shape the healthcare systems and practices in each country. Doctors still make most of the decisions for patients with low health literacy such as the ones I saw in Sri Lanka, while doctors in Edinburgh often make a shared informed decision with their patients.
Going to a foreign country also meant opportunities for travelling during free time, and exploring these two countries made me appreciate how small I am in relation to the vast world, reminding me to always be humble and work hard.
L-R: At work at the hospital and out-and-about exploring Edinburgh's sights with my classmates
I am very thankful that the School gave my friends and I the opportunity to go on electives that were exciting, enriching and made me grow as a person and healthcare professional. Travelling makes one miss home and appreciate the things we take for granted, and as I write this in the airport, I cannot wait to get home to my family and my favourite plate of black carrot cake.