This December, I volunteered on a medical outreach trip to India with 7 other people from my medical school. As students and faculty of a new school, we were fortunate enough to be invited by another medical school to volunteer on their medical outreach trip. I signed up because I felt called to go, and I believed that it would renew my love and excitement for practicing medicine before I hunker down to study for my remaining coursework and level one exam. Although I experienced many moments that excited me and reminded me why I love medicine, my time in India did much more for me than that. It showed me a side of medicine that I had never truly seen and experienced myself. It was different from the warm, fuzzy, romanticized view of medicine that I’ve carried with me thus far. It showed me the tough parts, such as when patients cannot afford or access the care they need, or when you realize you cannot help every patient who comes to you. Although I have seen these things before in different capacities, I needed to experience them from a provider’s perspective. I needed to see that even as the one providing the care, I can’t fix or help everyone who comes my way. There are so many factors that come into play in a patients’ healthcare, and seeing a healthcare provider is only a small part of it. I am still trying to wrap my head around everything I saw and experienced, but I know it will make me a better physician and that the Lord had His reasons for taking me there.
Anyway, now for the fun part- my day-to-day recap:
Travel! I flew from Atlanta to Miami to meet my team. That night, we flew to Istanbul, which was a 12 hour flight. After a two hour layover, we flew from Istanbul to Mumbai, which was a 7 hour flight. Finally, we had an 8 hour bus ride to get to where we were staying for the week. We made one stop along the way at this food court area where we got our first taste of delicious Indian food. We stayed in Saputara, which is an hour and a half away from Ahwa, where we were doing our medical work.
Our first day! Once we arrived to the clinic site, there was a decorated entryway leading us to a welcome ceremony. We were greeted with such pomp and circumstance because the clinic is going to be a permanent establishment in the community, thanks to our host medical school working with people in India to make it happen. Since there were so many of us on the trip overall, we split into two big groups. One group stayed at the clinic while the other went to the hospital. I went to the hospital on the first day, and I am glad that I did. It gave me a better overall picture of the healthcare system in India, and what I could possibly encounter at the clinic. It was an interesting experience, as the healthcare provided in Indian hospitals is quite different from the healthcare provided in the United States. It was(is) hard for me to understand why they do things the way they do, but I am sure the physicians feel the same way about how medical care is provided in the United States. After returning to our hotel that evening, my body decided it needed to become sick :(.
I spent all day in bed, still recovering from being sick the night before. I had more sickness that evening. Woohoo. Shoutout to my roommate for checking in on me and getting extra water bottles for me :).
I refused to miss more than one day of clinic. I tested how well I was by climbing to Sunrise Point early in the morning, and the view was breathtaking. After the hike, we headed to clinic. We students worked with one provider and rotated through different roles: translator (a special shoutout to these med students they were extra amazing!), history, recorder, physical exam, and osteopathic treatment (if there was enough time). In general, we saw several musculoskeletal complaints, ear problems (cerumen impactions, ruptured TM’s–> even in adults!), and malnutrition, especially due to iron deficiency. I saw many pediatric patients going to the provider next to us, so I decided to move to her room for the remainder of the day (I love peds!). Many of the children were malnourished and looked much younger than their actual age.
After returning from clinic, we went paragliding and saw some gorgeous views!
Apparently, everything closes on Sundays (including the hospital), so we saw the least amount of patients on this day. Because there were way more providers than patients, that left us students with some down time. When we weren’t seeing patients, we decided to draw pictures for the children. We made it into a competition by allowing each child to choose which picture they liked best. In clinic, I saw a lot of children with congenital malformations, one of which I had never even read or heard about before. It was particularly sad to see a couple little ones who most likely would not live to adulthood.
After clinic, we drove to a park and went exploring before we returned to our hotel.
Last day of clinic, and it sure was a busy one. The clinic was the most crowded it ever was all week, but we were ready. In general, we saw more patients with musculoskeletal and ear problems, as well as many patients with GERD and constipation. Unfortunately, we had to move very quickly through patients, and did not have enough time to use OMT to help everyone with musculoskeletal complaints. Most of the time, patients came in with more problems than they originally came to see us for. It was very difficult to move through patients quickly knowing they could have additional complaints, but it was absolutely necessary at the time.
Traveling! Before the bus arrived, I got to do some last-minute exploring and found a beautiful public garden near our hotel. This time, the bus ride took 9 hours. We stopped at a mall to have lunch and do some shopping, and we ate meat for the first time all week (it was glorious!). We stayed overnight in the Mumbai airport, hanging out, shopping, and napping until it was time for our 5am flight. My baggage got flagged because of my otoscope, so that was an interesting little side adventure. By the time we made it back to the US, there were no more flights headed back to Atlanta, so that meant one more travel day for me.
India is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and it is definitely the most unique place I have ever traveled to. The people were some of the friendliest I have ever met, and I never felt my safety threatened even once. Everyone loved to say “hello” or “good morning”, and we were asked for selfies everywhere we went. The food, the culture, the people, the scenery are all amazing. I cannot wait to return to India again someday.