International Experience Fund winner Lauren Emms visits Gaborone in Botswana
Lauren recently visited Princess Marina Hospital, Gaborone, Botswana, as part of her International Experience. The International Experience Fund is an annual programme, kindly supported by Santander Universities and other generous donors, which exists to help eligible undergraduate students take advantage of opportunities overseas, such as work placements, volunteering or studying abroad. Enabling students to access such opportunities will have a range of benefits – enhancing life experiences, building a global network of contacts, broadening horizons and increasing intercultural competence, as well as gaining a competitive edge with regards future careers. For more information, visit https://www.brighton.ac.uk/santander/international-experiences-fund.aspx.
“With the support of the International Experience Fund, I travelled to Gaborone, Botswana, to spend time with doctors and nurses working on the AMBITION trial. The trial aims to compare the current drug treatment for Cryptococcus, an opportunistic fungal infection that usually affects patients with uncontrolled HIV, to a new regime.
During my time at Princess Marina Hospital, I observed and was involved with the treatment of patients on wards and in outpatient clinics, and the screening of the disease in the hospital laboratory. I saw a broad range of infectious pathologies such as advanced HIV, tuberculosis and cryptococcal disease. Furthermore, I practised my clinical skills such as carrying out physical examinations, setting up an ECG, using assessment tools and interpreting results of various medical investigation. Also, I witnessed the administrative side of the trial and the actions taken to adhere to the study protocol.
My trip to Princess Marina Hospital not only has given me lots of new knowledge about infectious disease and clinical trials, but a reflection which is more personal. The trip has given me an experience like no other, has helped me to develop as an individual, and has changed my perspective significantly.
To start at the beginning; working on my application meant that I corresponded with a doctor who I had never met before, over e-mail. Once I knew that my proposed trip was going ahead, we frequently exchanged more emails to organise everything fully. The General Medical Council (GMC) states that “graduates must communicate by spoken, written and electronic methods clearly” with colleagues, as well as patients. I have put this into practice when speaking with doctors over email, in a much greater extent that I would have at any other point within medical school.
I also learned how to tackle an unfamiliar environment completely alone, something I have never done before. I feel that I integrated well into the team, and with other doctors and medical students from Britain and the USA who were there for other affairs. Integrating into a new team is something I will do regularly as a foundation doctor, as we have to change work place every four months. I have always felt scared and unprepared for when this will happen to me. However, this experience has helped me to find a new level of confidence in myself – as a person generally, and in my abilities to work effectively in a new environment and within a team of people I have just met. I am a firm believer that putting yourself out of your comfort zone is the best thing to do, it forces you to grow and develop as a person.
I experienced the culture of a doctor who works abroad or in infectious disease, and I am now sure that I would like to do something like this in the future. It means that I can start working towards this now while I am still a student, and direct my interest towards these topics, to increase my chances of success in this type of medical field.
Lastly, I am welcome back whenever I like – there has been talk that I can go back for my medical elective, which happens after my finals in fifth year. If by that point in time, my contacts are elsewhere in the world, they could potentially arrange for me to join them there, or they can put me in contact with their colleagues in other places.
One of my favourite moments was spending lots of time having one-to-one teaching, in the clinical trial office and on the wards, covering many topics. Although I enjoyed the privilege of this teaching, the reason it was my favourite moment is because of the way that the doctors taught. It was captivating to see how much passion they have for their work, and their excitement when teaching a subject that they are deeply fascinated by. It was a heart-warming experience which brings me motivation for my future when I will be inevitably teaching medical students myself.
Another element that I admired was the fantastic job that the doctors did to come to a diagnosis and treat patients effectively, despite being limited by the smaller variety and quantity of diagnostic tools and treatments that Princess Marina Hospital has access to. In the UK, we have a lot of advanced technology and resources available. We can order multiple blood tests at once, out of the thousands to choose from, and can send patients for imaging immediately when there is a pressing situation. The experience has brought to light how fortunate and blessed we are in the UK – for patients, and for us doctors as we have what we need to make our jobs easier. I am going to have immense gratitude for our NHS from now on, and be mindful of when I am ordering diagnostic tests, as a lot of the time, tests are ordered unnecessarily and this wastes our precious funds.
The advice I would give to potential applicants is to Do It! Even if the idea sounds out of your comfort zone. Before the trip, look up what the surrounding area has to offer in great depth. If you have spare time, when not doing educational activities, then it is best to make the most of your time there. By knowing what is there in advance, you can maximise your time and your own spending money.
For example, in the evenings I spent time with the American medical students and other British doctors who I had met. We went shopping, sampled the local cuisine, went to a Jazz show, participated in park runs at the golf club, and visited the local art gallery. A doctor and I also went on a safari drive around the nearby game reserve on the bank holiday. At weekends, I went further afield. One weekend, we travelled up to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park to see the wildlife and slept under the stars on the salt pans.
While you are there, make the most of every opportunity – try the different food, explore and engage in the culture, get to know all the people you meet. This may be the only time you’ll ever go to this place”.