Ryan Cheu - Medicine in Nepal
In the summer of 2013, I took a chance and volunteered with Projects Abroad in the country of Nepal. This experience was unbelievable and helped to solidify my desire to pursue a career in medicine. I have recently graduated from Santa Clara University and my goal is to attend medical school and eventually work in pediatric surgery.
I chose to volunteer in Nepal because of the Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre (HRDC) for disabled children. My brother suffered from William’s Syndrome and is the reason why I am interested in medicine. Nepal presented me with the opportunity to not only experience other cultures, but have the ability to make an impact on children similar to my brother.
Prior to this experience, I had never left the US and to be honest it had never even crossed my mind. During my gap year while I applied to medical schools, I started looking for jobs. While I was doing so, I stumbled upon Projects Abroad and read many stories similar to this one. At first I was nervous about the prospect of stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving many first-world luxuries behind. My friends and family pushed me to pursue this and before I knew it, I was on the plane.
My Medical Placement
In Nepal, I had the opportunity to volunteer at HRDC in Banepa for close to 4 weeks. Each day, I would hike 30 minutes up a hill to the hospital from my host family’s house. I began each day by shadowing Dr Rabindra Regmi, a 3rd year resident, as he did his ward rounds.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we would go to the operating room for surgeries. The other days we would work in the out-patient department. I had the opportunity to scrub in on various orthopedic surgeries, ranging from simple club foot deficits to the more advanced post synevectomy.
In the out-patient department I was able to see cases that were not “normal” for US standards. Club foot deficits, cubitus valgus/varus injuries are not commonly seen due to the difference in medicinal practices. I even learned how to perform a Ponseti Cast!
The experience in Nepal was eye-opening, as I witnessed what sacrifice and appreciation truly meant. Many families would walk for 6 straight days to the hospital because of the faith they have in the treatment there. You can see how much of an impact this hospital had on the people.
As an ER scribe in the US, I saw many cases where patients seemed unappreciative and ungrateful for the services provided. Many took for granted the healthcare they received. The Nepalese people were different. Families would sleep on the floor in the hospital as there was simply not enough space for them plus their children.
Even the children there will have an impact you. For many of these patients, sitting and eating is all they can do in the wards. There is one small TV that occasionally works due to the power cuts. Other than that, there is nothing. One day, I brought a deck of cards to work. I never realized how far 52 cards could go. What was a simple game of memory to me meant the world to them. Appreciation and sincerity is what I remember seeing the most. My effort and time was all I needed to make an impression on these children.
My Host Family
I stayed in Banepa, Nepal with four other volunteers. My host father, Damu, was extremely nice and spoke fluent English. He was a physiotherapist at HRDC. On weekends, you are welcome to travel anywhere you want and Damu was extremely helpful in setting that up. He would give us detailed instructions and/or call taxis in advance. Nepal is a beautiful country and the Himalayas are truly breath-taking. I was able to travel to Pokhara where I kayaked on Phewa Lake and went paragliding. I visited many temples around Kathmandu and even learned a little Nepalese.
One of the funnier memories I have is that the local Nepalese all thought I was Nepali and would speak to me as such. They always assumed that I was the “tour guide” for the other volunteers. I guess it wasn’t all bad considering I sometimes was only charged local prices on buses.
My experience in Nepal not only opened my eyes for medicine, but made me feel that I was making a difference. I completely recommend this opportunity to anyone who is interested as you will meet people that will have an impact on your life. The Nepalese people are truly nice and genuine and I was even invited to the anesthesiologist’s home in Kathmandu for dinner one weekend. This opportunity offered by Projects Abroad has further convinced me that I want a career in medicine.
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