Akwasi, a third-year and aspiring physician, took advantage of his spring break to learn more about the medical field. Supported by a grant from the Office of African American Affairs, he traveled to Thailand with Gap Medics. Keep reading to learn more about his trip and the Gap Medics program.
Shadowing physicians here in the United States, I have been able to observe the confidence, teamwork, commitment, patience, and forms of communication that physicians ascribe to each individual patient. Although these health exposures helped me to appreciate the practice of medicine, I did not want to limit myself to understanding patient care just within my own surroundings. Thus, my curiosity to experience healthcare from a new perspective led me to discover Gap Medics, a medical internship program that I participated in during my spring break. (March 8th – 16th).
I discovered this program while searching for alternative spring break options online. After considering several other programs and weighing their benefits, Gap Medics seemed to provide the most enriching options that would best cater to my pre-medical needs and interests. Although the program offered options in several parts of Europe and Africa, I chose to pack my bags and take flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This may sound a bit facetious, but as a child in America I had always wanted to see the other side of the world, and this internship presented the opportunity that I could not refuse. I secured funding for the trip through several sources: the Office of African American Affairs Stephanie Jean Charles Global Service Scholarship, as well as personal outreach to friends and family.
As an aspiring physician in the field of Family or Emergency Medicine, this trip gave me the opportunity to observe table-side surgical operations. From an Arthroscopic ACL Reconstruction, Gallbladder removal, Thoracotomy, to a Caesarean section. Each day presented a variety of cases that kept me on my toes. It was great given the opportunity to move from one operating room to the next, while observing surgeries over the shoulders of several surgeons. I was able to witness how clinicians in Thailand were able to assess their patients in order to recognize the connections that human beings have with their illness. Although doctor-patient interaction was sometimes difficult to follow because of the language barrier, these instances challenged me to ask questions and engage the physicians in dialogue concerning patient treatment and diagnosis.
While the program participants (including myself) observed cases during the day, we also spent time during the evening learning about the health system of Thailand and the influence of health policy and management on the well-being of the native residents. With hopes of one day pursuing a Masters in Public Health (MPH) after several years of practicing as a physician, this public health component of the Gap Medics program gave me the opportunity to learn and discuss current health problems, and how prevention techniques and disease outbreaks are affecting patient care in Thailand.
Culturally, this trip was simply life-enlightening. For the first time in my life, I was interacting, living, and learning from (and with) people who did not look like me, and were culturally different from the norm that I was accustomed to seeing. Being the only program participant from America, I was surrounded by people from the native country, as well as other parts of the world such as Denmark and England. Thus, I could not help but raise so many questions within every situation and conversation that touched on a topic that I found interesting or did not recognize.
We truly live in a world of cultural diversity, and I did not appreciate this until I took a huge leap out of my comfort zone and ventured on this journey to Thailand. Not only did this trip allow me to observe the art of medicine in a new environment, but it cracked the door of curiosity that I plan to keep open with many more international experiences.
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