The musings of a fourth year English medical student

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

wanderlust


Like many people, one of my favourite hobbies is travelling. But today I thought to myself, what opportunities will I have in the future to keep travelling?

Some of my ideas include:
Hiking pretty much anywhere scenic and beautiful: Sweden, Denmark, France (Chamonix), Austria, Yosemite (CA), Canada (any of the national parks), Alaska, New Zealand.
Skiing (anywhere)
Running marathons across the globe at famous locations (San Francisco, Syndey etc.)
Go to Coachella in CA
Go back to Laguna Beach, CA
Spend some time living in some of the lovely famous European cities, ie Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Vienna, Milan
Go to Thailand with some friends
Climb loads of famous mountains (Kilamanjaro..) 

I am currently not planning to take a gap year prior to going to university, however, given that only a third of medical applicants in the UK get offered a place I am expecting the worse and have started contemplating what I will do during that year as I reapply.
I also thought about what happens when I go to medical school. Most unis offer electives for a few weeks or so in a foreign country for medical students, and the university holidays are much longer than the school ones that I'm used to. However, the road to becoming a doctor is pretty clear cut. 5-6 years at UK medical school, followed by two years of UK hospital ward rotations as a junior doctor, and following that post-graduate UK medical training in one's chosen speciality, the shortest being 18 months to train as a GP (family doctor). It's not the same as most other 3 year degrees that can offer one year of education abroad (usually if you're studying a language), or perhaps one may decide to travel after the degree. But with the medical degree, the train of education is pretty continuous for 8 years easily, and that's a long to commit to living in one country. I then thought about how easy it would be to travel between the end of the uni degree and my Foundation Year1/2 jobs as a junior doctor. Is this commonplace for many medical degree graduates? Or would that feel too disjointed to oneself,  to leave the UK before actually feeling capable to practice medicine properly? And what about after FY1/2? Or after specialist training? Is this really feasible, or counter productive for my medical aspirations?

I always thought it would be interesting to work as doctor abroad. However, after my experience in France last year working with the charity Secours Catholique, I reconsidered. One day I was working in a help clinic, where anyone can pop in with any particular problem and ask for help from the charity. My job was to translate English into French for those who visited us that couldn't speak the language. The vast majority of people who came to see us were not natively French and had been living in France for less than a year, several homeless and several being single mothers with young children. One man that came in with a friend was from Somalia and had been in France for a week. He was called into a consultation booth and I came to join them. The man could only speak Somalian, but his friend (also Somalian) spoke a little English. So, we had a very disjointed conversation where the man spoke Somalian, his friend spoke English to me, and then I spoke French to the charity volunteer. Just by looking at this man I could see he was unwell. He had bloodshot eyes, he walked with a limp and curved back, and he looked frightened and exhausted. As the interview continued, I was asked to translate that the man was a victim of a bomb explosion back in Somalia whilst he was in his car. He had broken his leg and had shrapnel still in his arm. He had no money, food or shelter and needed to call his wife and family back home. But moreover, when he went to a nearby French hospital he was refused treatment because he had no ID and couldn't pay for the healthcare. I then thought about how I would feel working in a private healthcare system, particularly in A&E, as I have a great interest in this speciality, and to know that I was obliged to not  help people who needed care just because they weren't paying citizens. It really upset me, and at the time I felt very strongly that I would never feel right working for a private healthcare organisation. To see someone right before your eyes suffering in that way, whilst I knew how I had come to France for free (my parents paid for me) on holiday and had never paid for any healthcare in my life, to see someone who had nothing. Everyone should have the right to free healthcare.

I know that I am meant to be a doctor; there is no other profession I would rather do day in day out for the rest of my life. But part of what appeals to me in the altruistic feeling of giving my knowledge freely to others to help them when they truly need it. I suppose I never recognised that importance given that all I've known is the NHS and the fact that this is where most of my medical practice will reside. Turning medicine into an emotionless business doesn't make sense to me, because you can't put a price on the importance of good health, no matter how rich or poor you are. In addition, what I also liked about the medical profession was the ability to travel, given that many European and International countries are short staffed of doctors, and the UK medical degree being one of the most respected medical qualifications globally in terms of quality of training. But even if it was a very short term medical post abroad, I'm not sure how I would feel charging for the care that I would give to a patient, provided that it is not cosmetic.


I have often thought of being a doctor in a French ski resort, or perhaps in Sweden or Canada. Now I'm mulling things over. 
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