Amna Syed - Medicine in Jamaica
My name is Amna Syed and I am currently in my penultimate year at school. I am originally from Pakistan, but have lived in England before moving to the Netherlands. This year, I traveled to Jamaica as a volunteer to take part in the Medicine program.
My first impressions of Jamaica
As soon as we stepped out of the airport, we were met by the heat and humidity of Jamaica’s tropical climate. We didn’t have to stand in the heat for long as we were quickly welcomed by Projects Abroad staff who took us on a three hour car journey, from the airport in Montego Bay, to the parish of Mandeville.
It’s fair to say that the car journey was a memorable one; it was the first time that most of us were exposed to roads with so many potholes and sharp turns! On the other hand, it was a great chance for volunteers to get to know each other whilst admiring Jamaica’s beautiful, green and hilly landscape.
At my Medicine project
Seven other volunteers and I spent two weeks gaining experience at Percy Junor Hospital; a government run hospital. We spent our time rotating between the different wards; I worked in the female medical, female surgical and the paediatric wards.
During the day we would assist the nurses, help care for and interact with the patients, as well as observe and learn from the doctors during their ward rounds. I made endless gauze pads with the nurses, but also learned about different conditions and treatments from the doctors.
Due to the fact that Jamaica is a developing country, I expected the government run hospitals to be much different to the ones we have back home in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, it was incredibly interesting to see how well the nurses cared for the patients, despite the lack of monitoring machinery.
After spending just five hours at the hospital, we received first aid training from the Jamaican Red Cross. Although I had previously received first aid training, I found it very useful to refresh my knowledge, discover new techniques and learn about different life-threatening diseases.
One of my most memorable parts of my two weeks in Jamaica was our medical outreach. After going through a workshop about common medical checks, we were able to perform them on members of the public. We set up our booths in a church in Mandeville; we offered free fitness and dietary advice as well as carrying out blood pressure and blood glucose tests.
I carried out blood glucose checks on over thirty people, ranging from thirteen to ninety-one years old. Despite being nervous about getting blood samples in the beginning, I soon got the hang of it. I felt that it was a great experience, as I learned how to deal with different kinds of patients, especially those who ran away from needles!
My host family in Jamaica
I had the privilege of staying with the Stewart family whilst in Jamaica. Both Mr and Mrs Stewart were incredibly friendly and hospitable from the minute we arrived. They introduced myself and a few other volunteers to traditional Jamaican cuisine and delicacies including plantain, which we first mistook for a huge banana.
I became very close to the other volunteers whilst sitting on the balcony looking out onto the scenic views of the mountain. Our host family went out of their way to show us around Jamaica; ranging from night drives to the mountain-top, to supermarket visits. With the help of our host family, we were even able to host a fourth of July barbeque night with the other fourteen volunteers in Jamaica!
Activities on the weekend
Every day after working at the hospital and receiving first aid training, we would meet up with the other volunteers from the other programs and spent the evening together. The staff in Jamaica had organized some great evening activities for us. These included a patois course, culture class, food tasting, reggae dancing, and everyone’s favourite, karaoke night. These activities helped us all build stronger friendships and we got to know each other much better.
On the weekend we traveled to one of Jamaica’s most famous beaches, Ocho Rios, and the breath-taking YS Waterfalls. The beach was so picturesque with crystal clear blue water and white sand; despite all this most of us spent the first five minutes taking advantage of Wi-Fi we hadn’t experienced in over five whole days.
Thanks to the great weather and the activities the beach had to offer, we weren’t on our phones for long. We went out into the sea in a glass-bottomed boat and had the opportunity to snorkel amongst the fish. The weekend excursion gave us all a chance to interact and relax whilst enjoying Jamaica’s beauty.
My final thoughts
Despite only being in Jamaica for two weeks, I had an amazing and unforgettable experience. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to travel across the world and learn about Medicine in a totally new environment and culture.
Although, before I left home, I was nervous about embarking on my journey. When the two weeks were over, I did not want to leave Jamaica. Not only did I learn a lot, I also made many great friendships with people from across the globe – meaning no matter what time of day it is there’s always someone to talk to!
I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone hoping to gain experience in Medicine whilst traveling and meeting new people.