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Hans Siy-Yap - Medicine & Healthcare in Philippines

A group of medical volunteers at a hospital in Bogo City

Being an ambitious and restless medical student, I faced a conundrum as I contemplated the upcoming summer vacation. What to do? A boring summer of sitting around and restlessly pacing my kitchen while waiting for my grades sounded like the beginning of a story titled ‘Wasted Youth’. After all, while I lack the skill and talent, I do have the time and energy to make myself a force for good in the world.

Thankfully, a friend of mine told me about Projects Abroad and asked me to join her exciting and daring adventure to the Philippines, the country of my birth. And so, after little deliberation, I booked my tickets to Cebu and readied myself for a month of learning.

My Medical Placement

During my project, I spent my weekdays at the Bogo District Hospital, which was the main medical facility in Bogo City. Since I was still a fledgling medical student, I spent most of my time assisting the nurses and observing the doctors. Thankfully, they were all very warm and willing to answer any of my questions. They even lent me their old textbooks if I wanted more information. Despite my awkward clumsiness, I ended up sharing a few meals with the nurses and made some good friends amongst them.

Volunteers have a meal together

Fresh from my first year of medicine, I was excited to expand my limited pool of knowledge and I wasn’t disappointed. Due to the small workforce within the hospital, the staff were very open to training us. My fellow interns and I would normally spend the morning observing the nurses at their station and then be taught the ins and outs of their jobs in the afternoon. It was fun practicing basic procedures like IV insertion and blood extractions on my fellow interns and it was rewarding being able to apply these skills later on throughout our placement.

The culmination of all this practice paid off during my second week where I had to perform basic postnatal care to two babies one after another. Not only was this rewarding because I was able to successfully apply what I had learnt under pressure but it also showed how much trust I have built up with the nurses.

The saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention” and it’s surprisingly apparent in the Philippines. During my stay, I amassed a cornucopia of ridiculous work stories from nurses singing with police officers while suturing up a victim of a minor road accident, to listening to club music during the delivery of a new-born. While I was initially shocked by these displays, there was a method to this madness. Since most patients in the hospitals couldn’t afford anesthesia or painkillers for these operations, many of the times the nurses had to resort to these measures instead to distract them from the pain. It took me a while to see past the chaos to realize that what I originally defined as “unprofessional” was simply people making do with what they have. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Volunteering at an Outreach

An island trip over the weekend

Moreover, the medical interns and I spent a day working at a government funded public health outreach program. We spent the morning working in a small community, called a “Barangay”, conducting routine health check-ups to the residents. This gave me first-hand experience of the long-term damage that chronic diseases can cause to an individual, especially in developing countries where resources are scarce and medical services may not be as sophisticated. Otherwise manageable diseases like diabetes can cause serious harm to patients who are not in a position to receive proper treatment. In one instance, I met an old woman who could no longer walk because she lost half her foot.

Traveling in the Philippines - Just Beaches and More Beaches

In the cold, chilly crags of Scotland where the rain only breaks to give way to sleet and snow, the fantasy of white beaches, clear blue waters, and the warm caress of the sun is too far away. For most people, this would simply be enjoying a beach just enough to stave off seasonal affective disorder. In the Philippines, I spent nearly every weekend at a beach with the other interns.

Amazingly, Cebu is situated in the Visayas region of the Philippines and is surrounded by islands. To cut a long story short, I traveled to numerous islands, where I relaxed by the seaside of Bantayan, snorkeled in Malapascua, and swam with whale sharks in Oslob. The Philippines offers an incredible amount of natural beauty to take in and exciting activities. At the end of it all, my only regret was getting horrendously sick during my time in Malapascua, which denied me a night out with the other volunteers.

Beach trip with the other volunteers

However the fun and games weren’t isolated to the weekends. I bonded with the other medical interns and along with some outgoing nurses and we spent a lot of time chatting and learning about our different cultures and interests during our lunch breaks. Furthermore, through the Projects Abroad Thursday Social Bonanza (a name I’m certain our host Achilles would approve of), I was able to make friends with the other volunteers and turn a few squeamish stomachs with my stories from the hospital. We would usually spend those afternoons playing a friendly game of sports ball (lawless dodgeball) or screaming into a karaoke machine, two favorite Filipino past times.

Culture - It’s More Fun in the Philippines

Probably one of the most common phrases I hear when I bring up the Philippines is, “Oh, I have a Filipino friend!” Personally, I always found that Filipinos are internationally renowned for being extremely friendly and warm and I have to say it’s well earned. After a long day of working in a hospital, I looked forward to relaxing and playing games with the kids in the neighborhood. It took them less than a day to accept me into their games and by the end of the week, it became routine for me to showcase my embarrassing volleyball abilities. Not only that but they were also happy to show me around their village, bringing me to some beautiful vistas and rural sights.

Playing badminton with local children after work

Stemming from this, Filipinos have a strong sense of camaraderie and unity. They are always willing to lend a helping hand. My host family would help me fix my slipper because it was in a state of perpetual disrepair and they actually took care of me when I was sick. There’s a good reason why you can find Filipino nurses worldwide. Speaking of nurses, I found out that the medical staff in my placement banded together to fund a young girl’s college tuition after she lost her family in a typhoon. They still keep in touch with her and have photos of her in college. Ultimately amidst all the poverty and natural disasters that afflict them, Filipinos, rather than broken and bitter, are united with a strong sense of community and hospitality. As a result, there is incredible sense of optimism and resilience inherent in all Filipinos.

Saying Goodbye to the Philippines

And so as I end my ruminations on this enlightening and exciting chapter of my summer, I can’t help but wonder, “When can I go back?” Honestly working in Cebu has to be one of the most wonderful and memorable experiences of my life and I can't help but thank Projects Abroad for giving me this opportunity. It’s something I’d recommend to any of my friends and by extension to you to intrepid reader who found this article. If you want to have an amazing summer, full of fun and learning go over to the Philippines. I might even see you there because I’m definitely going back some day.

Read more about Medicine in the Philippines.

Hans Siy-Yap

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