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Chengdu adventure

Dr. Peter Wang, a fourth year resident in Urology, completed a rotation at the West China School of Medicine in Chengdu, China. Read his reflection as he shares his 62-day experience practising medicine in a city of more than 15 million people:

My 62 days in Chengdu can be summed up with one word. Enlightening. Chengdu is one of the oldest cities in China with a renowned reputation for its spicy cuisine, leisurely culture, tea and pandas. The city is bustling with more than 15 million people, where the streets are never quiet and there is an odd, but fitting blend of traditional and modern architecture. In some ways this mirrors the health care in Chengdu: overcrowded and serviced by both western and traditional Chinese medicine.

West China Hospital, with more than 5000 inpatient beds, is the biggest of over a dozen smaller hospitals in the city. The rarity of the cases and the volume I saw was overwhelming. In two months I was involved in over 120 cases (approximately 36 paediatric, 9 oncological, 56 endoscopic and 19 reconstructive procedures), and participated in more than 50.

I also had an opportunity to give a talk to share my own experiences from Canada with the residents of West China Hospital; focusing on our education system, how we are evaluated, our PAIRO guidelines and our examination processes. This talk was well received with approximately 100 residents from all specialties in attendance. A lot of the topics were foreign to my audience and this prompted lively discussion.

However, the surgical aspect is but a small part of my adventure. During my stay I began to look past the invaluable surgical experience and slowly noticed the people I worked with, the culture and the dynamics of the city. I was reminded at how different China and Canada really are. On my first day I met Dr. Yue, who would be my guide and a resident in Urology.

He is finishing his eighth year of studies at West China Hospital, where he received no regular salary. He lives in a dorm shared with three other people and works extra shifts running an outpatient clinic on weekends to pay for his monthly expenses. He receives 3 Yuan (roughly 50 cents) for each patient he assesses.  Every night, Dr. Yue would have to line up to pick up hot water and pay 2 Yuan to take a shower at a public bath. On one occasion we went out for Starbucks coffee, a treat he only indulges in once a month. This is a fairly normal story for all the residents in Chengdu.

West China Hospital, due to its fame within China, also regularly receives residents from out of province. I befriended Dr. Liu and Dr. Zhang who are both junior staff from Xining and Chongqing respectively. They were doing an elective in Chengdu for nearly a year without pay, both leaving behind their spouses and children to further their careers when they return home. I quickly felt ashamed as my first complaint was that my shower was located on top of my toilet.

The residents of West China Hospital often form a very close relationship with each other, as they are expected to work six days a week. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into this inner circle, where I shared a common practice of cooking a meal and having a beer with a few of my new-found friends every Friday night. We would also explore the city when we had time, often looking for different places to eat. I was quite adventurous in Chengdu and tried black tofu, barbequed pig feet, pig aorta, curry squid and chicken feet. I was offered pig brain and chicken hearts, to which I kindly declined.

Chengdu also has a lot of cultural attractions. I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Cao who took time off to bring me to quite of few of these. He was born in Chengdu and under his wing I visited the Wuhou temple, which is a place to pay homage to the heroes of the warring era in China (200 BC). I also visited Wenshu temple, Chunxi Street, Jinlin Street and Ashun Bridge. However the highlight of my trip would have to be the panda research base. As an added bonus, for only 10,000 Yuan, you can feed a baby panda. Sadly, my grant limit wouldn’t allow for it.

I would like to acknowledge the Department of Surgery for supporting me through this rewarding experience in Chengdu. I would also like to especially thank Dr. John Denstedt for his guidance, support and encouragement over these two months. I will forever remember my surgical experience, my many new friends, the exotic cuisine, and most of all the pandas of Chengdu.