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Australia and Vanuatu

Old Members Trust Travel Grant Report – Helen Vigar, Medicine

As part of the final year of my medical degree I had the opportunity to travel to Australia and Vanuatu to undertake medical placements. I left Oxford in early February and stayed with friends for 5 days in Hong Kong before travelling to Sydney. In Sydney I had a placement in the Children’s Hospital Westmead, which is a large paediatric hospital in the Western suburbs. After this I flew to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Here I spent my second placement in the Vila Central Hospital, a government run hospital. On my way home I stayed a few days in Bangkok before returning to Oxford in Mid-April to complete my degree.

Australia: For my placement in Sydney I was placed on one of the general medical teams which allowed me to build on my knowledge from the paediatrics course in the 5th year of medical school. Due to the size of the hospital and its role as a referral centre the cases were often more complex than I had seen on my previous paediatrics placement, and patients were often referred from other hospitals in the surrounding area. While I was with this team I went on ward rounds, observed procedures, joined the junior doctor teaching and attended outpatient appointments. I was glad to stay with the same team for the duration of the placement because it allowed me to follow the patients from their admission to their discharge and to understand the decisions made about investigations and treatments in each case.

The time I spent in Sydney was fantastic, and as well as my medical placement I was able to take trips to the Blue Mountains, the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens and many of the beautiful beaches! After the placement in Sydney I flew to Cairns for a couple of days to see the Great Barrier Reef, before travelling to Brisbane to catch my flight to Vanuatu.

Vanuatu : The second placement was at the Vila Central Hospital on the island of Efate in Vanuatu. Here I spent half my time on a surgical placement and half my time with the medical team. Vanuatu has limited healthcare resources so the experience was very different from medicine in the UK and in Sydney. On the surgical placement I was able to assist in surgery and also see patients (under supervision) in the outpatient clinic. On my medical attachment I joined the junior doctors and assisted with tasks such as blood tests and blood cultures, writing discharge summaries, requesting consultations from other specialists and ordering tests. As well as many medical conditions common in the UK, there were a number of patients with diseases which I hadn’t encountered before, and this was a great learning experience. Vanuatu was just coming to the end of a Dengue outbreak when we arrived, and it was interesting to hear about the symptoms and signs of this disease and also about how such outbreaks are managed. The access to treatments and medications was very limited, and therefore there were a number of patients with chronic conditions who were managed in very different ways in Vanuatu compared to the UK. One of the key examples of this is in diabetes care. There is a high rate of type 2 diabetes in Vanuatu, but patients do not have access to the same treatments or follow up as we have in the UK. As a result I saw many patients on my surgical placement who were having amputations, and on medicine I met patients with severe eye problems as a result of poor diabetic control. These complications would be very rare in the UK but in Vanuatu are much more common.

Vanuatu was an incredible place to stay for a month and I really enjoyed the placement. The islands were beautiful, and during my free time I went and visited lagoons and waterfalls, snorkelled the coral reefs and kayaked around one of the tiny islands.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to go on this medical elective, and the support I received from the Old Members Trust Bursary. I am sure that the confidence I have gained from doing placements in these different environments will help me when I start my first foundation year as a junior doctor in July.

Find out more about the range of travel grants and scholarships available to assist Univ students on our Travel Grants page or read further travel reports.

Published: 22 August 2017

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