Cherlyn Tan - Medicine in Mongolia
‘Why Mongolia?’ was the first question my host mother asked me when I arrived at her home. Unsurprisingly, it was the most frequent question I’ve heard from my friends and family. In spite of the number of times I have been asked, I was unable to give a definite reply. Initially, I merely wanted the experience of volunteering overseas and the opportunity to work in a surgical department. However, after spending two weeks in Mongolia, I am able to list hundreds of reasons why you would want to volunteer in Mongolia.
My Host Family in Mongolia
My host mother gives an accurate portrayal of Mongolian women - friendly, caring and helpful. When I first arrived at her doorstep, I instantly felt the warmth of her household. Despite arriving late at night, my host family was very welcoming and had everything prepared for me, even down to the slightest detail. We even had a good chat and my host mother and brother showed me Mongolia through Google Maps.
My host mother and her brother cooked authentic Mongolia food for us daily, with the occasional ice cream treat. Although my host family does not speak fluent English, I had no problems communicating with them. In fact, my host mother is really funny and enjoyable to spend time with. Somehow, that household dissolved my fears of being in a completely foreign land.
Located along the peace avenue, the apartment I lived in is modern and well equipped. It is a convenient place with a few bakeries and supermarkets in close proximity. The only problem was not getting hot showers because there was some annual pipe maintenance where the hot water supply was cut.
My Medical Placement
I was assigned to shadow a surgeon from the general surgery department in the State Central Hospital. I was exposed to many CT scans and histological photos of diseased tissues during weekly reviews and conferences, where rare and complicated issues would be shared and discussed. During my short two week stint, I observed several open and laparoscopic cholecystectomy, hernia repair, appendectomy and gastric ulcer surgeries.
The doctors were really helpful as they would often walk me through their surgeries and some would even hold out diseased tissues and organs to me. They also taught me invaluable surgical skills, like the different types of stitching and the sections where they should cut. I was really lucky as my supervisor gave me free access to the operating theatres, while he did paper work, enabling me to observe different types of surgeries, like knee replacement surgery and thoracotomy.
The highlight of the placement was the ‘on-call’, where I stayed in the hospital for nearly 30 hours. It was indeed an eye-opener. Initially, I thought there would not be many surgical cases, but I was wrong; there were three surgeries that night and my surgeon also saw a few more patients and I even got to diagnose a patient with chronic appendicitis. I also got a chance to mingle around with the residents and even medical students. Although it was tiring, it was worthwhile.
The Overall Experience
My experience in Mongolia would not be complete without the other volunteers. I have befriended volunteers from diverse backgrounds, and from countries all over the globe. In fact, the weekend out to Kharakhroum with a few other volunteers is one of the best weekends I’ve had this summer.
A trip to the outskirts is a must for anyone visiting Mongolia. The clear blue skies and vast fields of green is an eye-opener. In Kharakhorum, I had a traditional Mongolian experience, where I stayed in a ger and even got to ride a horse in the grassland.
Apart from the placement, I got to know about Mongolia’s rich history and culture; like having to shake hands when you accidentally step on a person’s feet. Overall, I am thankful for the experience in Mongolia. If I were to go back in time, I will choose to volunteer in Mongolia without a doubt.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Programme Advisors.