I switched up my volunteering schedule a bit this week and went to Shawco Health on Tuesday rather than Wednesday. Each week they send out six mobile clinics, two every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, all of which go to different townships around the city. By going on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, I was with a completely new group of people and went to a new township, Masiphumelele. The conditions here were far better than that of Zibonele—they had an actual clinic that we used rather than twelve plus people crammed into a trailer. The mobile clinics go out at night, leaving around 5 and getting back close to 11, depending on how many patients there are and how many students are available. Because we had actual clinic facilities, it was also much warmer than the past weeks where we were out in the open air, something that was much appreciated as the nights can get pretty cold here! I worked with two third-year students, both of whom were my age. They follow the English system for education and if you aren’t familiar with it, it is pretty different from the American education system. Here in South Africa, students start medical school right from high school, at the age of 18 or 19… which is crazy! They have a six-year intensive curriculum and are exposed to the hospital immediately. Essentially, they teach solely what doctors will need to know—they have no such courses in history, sociology, English, etc, so they are just getting the essentials necessary. There are certainly pros and cons to the system as I know plenty of people who have changed their mind about medicine and at the age of 17 when applying, I feel like that is a huge commitment to make. The pros of course are that you are done in six years rather than eight and you get immediate exposure to the field. Once they finish their medical degree, they are required to work for the government for two years in public clinics before they can privately practice or specialize.
Anyways, as I said I was working with two students my age and they blew me away by what they already knew… which is quite an understatement. I have learned an immense amount of information and picked up on quite a lot as I have been volunteering and working with a medical student week after week, however up until this week they had all been older. The two students were both incredibly nice and we all got along great so the night was very enjoyable! These two students worked together and gave a full examination, without help from a doctor, to the patient, complete with a diagnosis and treatment. I was shocked. These students were my age yet already know so much about medicine and the field in general as they have been working with patients and in the hospital/clinic setting since day one. It was such a good learning tool however as one would carry out the examination while the other explained a lot about what was going on, the thinking behind it, and the conclusions one could make. For instance, I had no idea that your fingernails could tell you so incredibly much about your health! Of course it is very hands on from my perspective as well as I help do the basics such as histories, blood pressures, and the basics of a general examination. The experience is definitely one-of-a-kind as you would never get this personal interaction with a patient as a premedical student back in the states. It being a primary clinic, we typically see common, everyday problems such as rashes, colds, diabetes, hypertension, pregnancy, Tuberculosis, and HIV but sometimes there are other more hectic problems such as appendicitis. Not only have I enjoyed the clinic experience, I have learned a lot and it has helped me solidify my aspirations.
It’s a gorgeous day here in Cape Town so I think I’m off to the beach or some other adventure once classes are finished… it is getting harder and harder to find the motivation and self-initiative to do school work with the weather but I have reasoned that I will spend the days at the beach while devoting the night to a bit of school work.
Miss you all,