Lydia Spencer - Medicine in Sri Lanka
I chose Sri Lanka because it truly is the jewel of the Indian Ocean; it has everything from palm tree lined beaches, national parks, waterfalls, endless amounts of tea, beautiful temples to rainforest and an abundance of wildlife.
Coming to Sri Lanka with Projects Abroad offered me the chance to gain a greater insight into what it means to be a doctor, to observe procedures. Not only did I learn but I also had the opportunity to explore this beautiful country as both a tourist and as a Sri Lankan whilst making some incredible friends along the way!
My Sri Lankan Host Family
Before arriving in Sri Lanka I was very apprehensive; I was nervous about meeting my host family, starting my placement and finding my way around, but as soon as I was met by two beaming members of Projects Abroad staff all of my worries completely vanished.
When I arrived with my host family my host mum, Chandra, had prepared the most fantastic feast: there were steaming egg hoppers, rice, lentil curry, coconut roti, pineapple and my favorite- pani pol (a pancake filled with sticky sweet fresh coconut and honey).
I felt truly humbled to be welcomed so warmly into their home and to such an amazing feast! However I quickly found out that every meal in the Peiris household was a banquet and that their kindness and willingness to help the volunteers in any way extended the whole of my stay.
My Medicine Placement
I arrived at the Panadura Base Hospital to a stuffy room filled several times its capacity, nurses bustling around trying to bring some order to the chaos and a queue for the pharmacy so long it was almost in the street. I had a pretty realistic view of what to expect so this wasn’t a surprise to me at all but upon being shown around the departments it was far different to what I had ever expected.
Overall the hospital was spotless, the doctors and nurses were kind, the standard of care was faultless and despite the lack of equipment, the cats lounging around and at times two or three people per bed it was not all that dissimilar to the hospital at which I volunteer at home.
I was lucky that the director of the hospital tailored my placement around my interests and preferences so I began my first week in paediatrics, followed by general medicine, ICU, and finally surgery.
My favourite department was by far ICU due to the shear variety of illnesses and problems that I encountered. I would begin my day reviewing the case notes for each patient and talking to the nurses- all of whom were immensely helpful and kind (and to my surprise spoke English!).
I would then sit with a doctor in the admission area and observe them as they assessed each patient that came in. Wherever possible-as it was incredibly busy and fast paced- the doctors would explain to me the different illnesses and how they came to a specific diagnosis which I would follow by eagerly looking it up in my medical dictionary.
My Spare Time in Sri Lanka
I normally started my placement fairly early so I had plenty of spare time in the afternoon. I spent most of my free time at Panadura’s infamous ‘The Fab’ café.
The majority of volunteers would meet up and discuss weekend plans among other things and eat ridiculously cheap (but addictively delicious) cakes and drink sweet Sri Lankan tea. When I wasn’t tempted by cake I would walk along the local beach with one of my housemates or take a tuk-tuk to a hotel to relax by a swimming pool.
Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country with such a rich culture I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience the lifestyle by living with a host family. Before I set out on my adventure I never expected that I would learn so much and meet so many kind-hearted people. I have truly fallen in love with Sri Lanka and cannot wait to return, hopefully as a fully qualified doctor one day!
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.