Rebecca Stoneman - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
Namaste! I am currently a pre-med student hoping to graduate with a major in Biology and a minor in both Sociology and Medicine & Society.
During my sophomore year, I challenged myself to pursue and experience things that were completely out of my comfort zone. As a prospective medical school student, I knew that doing things to broaden my experiences and understanding could only help me in the long run. I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship through the University Honors Program, so I went for it, and I won! The whole premise of the scholarship was for students to design an experience to enhance their awareness of medicine.
I had no idea what country I wanted to go to at first. I had never really traveled anywhere outside of the United States, so I knew that no matter where I picked, it would be a novel experience. I’d like to say that I had a specific reason for picking Nepal, but I didn’t. It was pretty much a ‘point at the map blindfolded’ choice. After doing a bit of research, I became ecstatic about my trip and couldn’t wait to embark on my journey!
My placement was in Bhaktapur at the Cancer Hospital. I was so happy to be placed in Bhaktapur, as it is considered one of the best/prettiest areas in the Kathmandu Valley.
In a typical day, I would eat breakfast with my host family (and a few other volunteers) around 8am, and then begin my thirty-minute walk to the hospital around 9am. I liked to walk a bit early and stop to sit by a pond for a few minutes before work. Upon arriving at the hospital, I would check in and then head to the inpatient ward to follow the doctors on their rounds (usually to check on patients who were receiving chemotherapy or were recovering from surgery). After rounds, we would go to OPT (outpatient), where we would sit for two to four hours discussing treatments and examining patients. Some days, it would be really crowded, as three or four doctors all saw patients in the same room. One day, I counted twenty people in the room.
Although OPT was always crowded, I learned the most during my hours there. The doctor and patient would talk in Nepali, often the doctor would perform a physical examination (usually the patient was complaining of a mass, which the doctor would find and then have me feel) and the doctor would make notes in English. After the patient left, I would ask the doctor to explain what happened, and I would take notes. Towards the end of my stay, the doctors had me examine the patients after they did and try to make a diagnosis. All of the staff were really friendly and overly helpful. No question ever went unanswered!
I did observe a few surgeries, but did not assist in any (I was only at the hospital for about three weeks – volunteers who had been there longer would sometimes hold forceps or blot blood from an incision). I usually left the hospital around 3pm. All in all, at the hospital I saw cases of pretty much every type of cancer, including a man with cancer on his optical nerve, which was forcing his eyeball out of his head, as well as a lot of cases of fibro adenomas, lymphomas, and cysts.
My Nepali Host Family
My stay in Nepal wouldn’t have been nearly as great without my host family, fellow volunteers, or new Nepali friends (whom I met through a Nepali friend back home in the US). After dinner each night, the whole family, including volunteers, would sit in the ‘family room’. ‘Mero babba’ (my host dad) would teach the volunteers Nepali words, and I often had long chats with ‘mero aama’ (my host mom) and ‘mero didiharu’ (my older host sisters) about the cultural differences between America and Nepal.
On some weekends, I traveled around Nepal with other Projects Abroad volunteers, while on other weekends, my Nepali friends would take me around Kathmandu, answering any cultural questions I may have had, asking me questions about the US, and teaching me more Nepali words. The culture and living conditions in Nepal were totally different than anything I had seen in the US. As naïve as this may sound, as I traveled in the back of a taxi from the airport, all I could think of were scenes from the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. The roads were a mixture of dirt and pavement, there was trash in the rivers as well as trash burning on the sides of the roads, beggars and children asking for money, and stray dogs and cows roaming free everywhere – a bit of a contrast with the majestic Himalayas looming in the background.
Advice for future volunteers
Don’t be afraid to be curious. If you have an opportunity to visit another country or culture, do it. Furthermore, if you have the opportunity to receive funding for an experience like that, go for it! I was completely terrified of leaving the country, especially to go alone to a third world country, but it turned out amazing! After being exposed to another country and culture so different from anything I’ve ever known, I have a much greater appreciation for other cultures and people.
If you’re soul-searching, an experience like this will make you question just about everything you’ve always accepted; you will be forced to learn exactly who you are and search for the truth in your beliefs, morals, and ideas. It will make you a bigger and a better person. If you’re interested in medicine, I think it is incredibly valuable to see medicine in a country that may be less fortunate than your own – not so you can be so much more thankful for the medical practices your country possesses (although you may be), but so that you will understand the essential motivation of great doctors in all parts of the world.
No matter the resources one possesses, no matter the skills and wisdom one can give, and no matter the technology one may have, the goal of great doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals around the world is the same – to help another person to the best of one’s abilities, and to bring comfort and happiness to the sick as well as to their families.