Jaffna Elective – The Perspective of Two Australian Students
Jaffna Elective – The Perspective of Two Australian Students Jan – March 2015
Sri Lanka, and more specifically Jaffna, is the Land of our ancestors. Although this trip was officially an elective, it was much more to us than that. It was a chance to explore our roots and to learn more about our culture and people. For many years both of us have had an interest in health in under-resourced areas and this elective seemed like the prime opportunity to investigate both. Sri Lanka certainly delivered.
The adventurers started even before we left… When enquiring about visas and paper work it It seemed that even mentioning ‘Jaffna’ got emails ignored and telephones slammed down on us at a regular basis, but we were determined to visit. After delaying our elective two weeks, in light of the election, we found ourselves desperately praying as the date grew nearer and our permits to the north had still not been approved. Eagerly watching the news we celebrated as Maithripala Sirisena was elected and sighed with relief as the need for a permit was lifted, just in time.
Our visit to Sri Lanka was peppered with wonderful tourist adventures. We tried our hand at three-wheelers, CTB busses, trains and even side-saddled a motor bike or two (much to our Ammas’ horror!) We somehow never had a road accident (I’m sure it was a miracle) and only had one or two stomache aches despite the aggressive Sri Lankan hospitality always filling our tummy with all sorts of delicious foods and (INCREDIBLY sweet) drinks. We were able to visit many places in the beautiful country from the glamorous malls in Colombo across to the peaceful beaches of Trincomilli. South to the cultural Kandy, the ‘Tea Country’, Newera Elliya and up through ancient Dumbulla and Anuradhapura. Jaffna itself became a home base for us.
The Jaffna Teaching Hospital certainly taught us lots about medicine and how an under-resourced hospital works. The ins and outs of ordering appropriate and fewer investigations, how to run manual lab tests, theaters that ran multiple surgeries simultaneously and students who work as hard as the interns. We were impressed by your universal health care and challenged to appreciate primary/community health care as we saw a system taxed by the lack of one. On ward rounds we were excited to work so closely with consultants, something we don’t get to do much of in Australia. We learnt much from them but also noticed the strength of the hierarchy. Although we still hold high respects for our seniors and they have high expectations for us, they regard us more as and colleagues and work mates. The quick tounge lashings our Sri Lankan consultants could unleash and their occasional soft and well timed ‘addi’ caught us completely off guard and provided us many laughs and stories to take home with us (although I am aware the poor student who was the subject of them felt far from laughing at the time)! We were constantly impressed with the Sri Lankan students memory for detailes; doses and full treatment regimes all stored in your head, a skill we are far from mastering! The difference in learning style was fascinating as we tend to focus on ‘case-based-learning’, where you hardly study text book chapters but rather study with mnemonics, algorithms and role plays based on patient presentations. Working with you to strengthen each others weaknesses was both fun and rewarding.
More rewarding than any of the classes or holidays, however, was the relationships we built with our fellow students. We were welcomed into your class, hearts and homes. You taught us not only about your medicine but about your politics, culture and history, even teaching us some simple Tamil before we left. You made us proud to come from a people who, despite a lifetime of conflict and oppression, were able to not only survive but have the determination to thrive in academics and kindness to still welcome strangers as friends.
We thank Suriya & Emma for writing to us. They are two Australian Medical Students who did their 3 months of elective appointments at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital.
This article later appeared in the 4th MSU Newsletter published in November 2015.