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Ashley Lau - Medical School Elective in Nepal

Volunteering in Nepal

Namaste! During May of 2013, I travelled to Nepal for a two week medical elective experience. Despite my short placement, the natural beauty of the country, people, and culture have made a lasting impression that I will cherish.

Being a petite Chinese girl traveling alone, I was initially apprehensive about my decision to come to Nepal. During the flight a whirlwind of questions and self-doubt lingered in my mind - why did I do this? Why didn’t I go elsewhere with my friends? How will I survive alone in a foreign country?

However, during my two weeks in Nepal, my uncertainties turned into excitement. Excitement at the prospect of new experiences, jumping into the ‘organized chaos’ of Nepali transport, meeting new people and feeling overwhelmed by the friendliness despite being a foreigner.

Chitwan Medical Teaching Hospital

I stayed with a host family with three other female volunteers. We all easily bonded over the stories we would have from working at the hospital each day and from learning about each other’s different backgrounds. Binod, our host father was very accommodating – and treated every single one of us like members of the family.

We were able to experience daily Nepali life such as joining in to help milk the water buffalo for morning breakfast, having the national meal of ‘Dhal Bhat’ every day, learning to cope with the daily power cuts that occur, and picking up some Nepali phrases along the way.

Weekend trip

On the last day I was so touched by the farewell ceremony that Binod had organized for another volunteer and I as the entire family stayed behind in the morning to send us off. However, what we perceived to be a farewell ceremony actually turned out to be a wedding ceremony as I was informed by my fellow bus passengers on the way back to Kathmandu that all the gifts I was given were symbolic for marriage.

I worked at the Chitiwan Medical Teaching Hospital (CMC) which is a private hospital in Bharatpur. I was part of the general medical team and I attended daily ward rounds and outpatient clinics, helping the doctors see and examine patients. At CMC, there is quite a high standard of healthcare. Outpatient appointments were extremely efficient with each consultation lasting no longer than 10 minutes and investigations done and reviewed within the same day.

Unlike in the UK, confidentiality is not held in the highest priority, as it is common to see two or sometimes three consultations within the same room. This may be reflective of Nepal’s collectivist attitude of ‘what is yours is mine’ ideal.

I also came across tropical diseases uncommon to ones seen in the UK such as malaria or leptospirosis. Although the doctors at the CMC are very well trained and know about the most current standards of disease management, the availability and expenses of resources was a limiting factor towards providing treatment for patients. I distinctly remember a ward round where a patient was given a cocktail of ‘test and treat’ antibiotics to treat her condition since she could not afford to pay for tests which would have given her a definitive diagnosis.

Weekend fun

Visiting Nepal

On the weekend, volunteers are encouraged to organize excursions with each other. During my first weekend I was fortunate enough to be ‘invited’ to a traditional Nepali wedding that Binod was planning to attend. The journey to the wedding venue was quite an adventure! From experiencing torrential rainfall from the monsoon season during the drive, to having the car break down in the mountains followed by a 30 minute trek in complete darkness- we all danced and ate our hearts out to local Nepali music the next day.

Nepal is also known for having a more ‘adventurous’ side – and I was able to go water-rafting and to the Chitwan National Park. I spent my final weekend doing a crash-course of Kathmandu and learning the art of bargaining which is an essential skill when purchasing any item in Nepal.

I wish I had longer than two weeks in Nepal. Every day was filled with the anticipation of gaining a new experience and I definitely recommend it to anyone considering visiting in the future!

Read more about Medical Electives in Nepal

Ashley Lau

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