A great way to expand your knowledge and expertise is to get outside of your comfort zone and submerge yourself in an entirely different culture.
And Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is committed to fostering an exceptional student experience through intercultural learning opportunities that do just that.
Three Schulich Medicine students decided to take advantage of this opportunity by completing clinical placements in health care environments in Rwanda and China.
Learn more about the reason why they chose to complete an international placement and what they learned during their summer abroad.
Joining the student group for Western Heads East during her undergraduate degree at Western University fostered Jessica Bryce’s fascination with East Africa. She dreamed of being able to travel there one day when the time was right in her academic studies.
This past summer, Bryce made that dream come true by completing a clinical placement in orthopaedic surgery in Kigali, Rwanda at Centre Hospitalier Universities de Kigali (CHUK) — a university teaching hospital.
CHUK is the main public referral centre for all of Rwanda. There is only one orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital, however, so many operations are completed by senior and junior residents. Bryce learned a lot from working with and observing these residents, as well as international doctors who were mainly there for teaching purposes.
For Bryce, the most inspiring part of the clinical experience was meeting several young physicians and politicians who are changing the face of medicine in Rwanda.
“There is a sense of understanding between patients and doctors, and it is amazing to see the physicians trying to improve health care for all of Rwanda,” Bryce said. “Their faces light up when they tell you about the huge public health advances that have been made there in the past 20 years, particularly regarding maternal health and vaccination.”
For Bryce, being able to take part in the international clinical placement was career defining. Even if medical students do not have a desire to work in international low-resource settings, she believes taking part in a similar experience would be very valuable.
“Taking part in experiences like these puts you out of your comfort zone and gives you the opportunity to see clinical scenarios that are rare here in Canada,” she said. “It is also a great opportunity to meet other medical students around the world — I met students from Belgium, Scotland, the United States and obviously Rwanda.”
After finishing his first year of medical school, Clayton Law started to feel familiar with how medicine is practiced in North America. However, he knew that culture has a tremendous influence on how medicine is practiced, and wanted to gain experience in another country.
“When searching for an international opportunity, my ultimate goal was to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a good doctor,” he said.
Law decided to take part in a clinical placement in Shanghai, China because he wanted to see how health care would be delivered in such a fast-paced city. He completed the elective in Traditional Chinese Medicine with Dr. Xi Yunhu — a graduate from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and an expert in Tui Na, Chinese massage.
For Law, the best part of the experience was being able to exchange ideas and cultural information with his supervisor. They two of them used the opportunity to practice their language skills in English and Mandarin.
He also enjoyed learning about the culture and philosophy of Chinese medicine.
“At first, I was tempted to understand everything using principles of Western medicine,” he said. “But seeing medicine through a fundamentally different system was an experience I wouldn’t be able to have in North America.”
Law believes international experiences like this could benefit all medicine students, especially if they enjoy being challenged and seeing things from a different angle.
“I was thrown into a culture I did not understand and experienced medicine within a system I knew even less about,” he said. “But with the help of genuinely caring mentors and friends, I was able to eventually speak some Mandarin, practice authentic Chinese medicine and explore all of the great things Shanghai had to offer.”
When Matt Greenacre decided to take part in an international clinical placement, he was on a mission to figure out if global health work was the right choice for him.
“Fundamentally, I wanted to know what it looked and felt like because I am making a lot of decisions about my future at the moment,” he said. “I knew that if it was going to be a part of my career in the future, I needed real concrete experience with it to figure out if I enjoyed it or not.”
Greenacre completed his clinical placement at Rwanda Military Hospital, which is located in a district of Kigali called Kanombe. He followed a general surgeon named Dr. Ainhoa Costas and a maxillofacial surgeon named Dr. Amol Kulkarni, and even took part in a rural clinic in Bigugu.
Even though Greenacre couldn’t help as much as he would have hoped due to his limited training, he was able to take part in a few very interesting situations, such as scrubbing in for an extensive facial reconstruction.
“I learned what resource-constrained medicine looks like, and the humility necessary to accept where medicine is currently at in Rwanda while staying hopeful for future advancements,” he said. “Seeing the local populations and hearing about common ailments that some people in Rwanda have to suffer through was eye opening.”
While Greenacre isn’t certain what his career in medicine will look like in the future, he enjoyed the opportunity to see if global health is something that he wanted to pursue.
“If you want to take the opportunity to travel, experience medicine on a global scale and learn about the myriad of challenges it involves, go for it,” he said. “It is an adventure, and I’m sure you will value the experience.”