I’ve found it hard to put into perspective just how much things can change over the years you spend studying for a medical degree.
You start this journey fresh out of high school with little to no real-life experience and finish six years later with a couple of extra letters in front of your name and the realisation that now when someone calls out "Get Help!" - that’s you, you’re the help…
So much can happen in that time, and we change so much as individuals and professionals as we are exposed to a wide variety of different communities, practices, cultures and opinions during our learning and clinical placement.
I am forever grateful for the broad variety of clinical situations I was exposed to as a student. From working alongside specialists in state-of-the-art Oncology services at Townsville University Hospital to working side by side with the Royal Flying Doctors Service to extract critically unwell patients from remote North Queensland communities, to suturing up stab wounds at 3 am at an underfunded hospital in Namibia.
Even the day-to-day ward experiences, and the wonderful staff and patients we are privileged to work with every day help us build resilience and confidence to step up as the health professionals of tomorrow.
My final placement in Innisfail was a highlight because I basically was tasked with running the ward for the day and, for me, that’s when it clicked in my head and I realised "Oh wow this is what I’m about to be doing for a living, I can do this".
Tough lessons learned in an underfunded hospital in Africa
In 2019, I was privileged to undertake my third-year Emergency Medicine placement at the Katutura Hospital, a public hospital in Namibia, Africa. My fiancée Katja Serrer, a Namibian citizen studying in Australia, introduced me to her aunt, a Namibian Neonatologist, who helped me contact the correct people and I was able to secure a two-week placement.
I worked alongside a dedicated team of healthcare staff on a full-time roster caring for some of the 120,000 people living in the area. I experienced first-hand the challenges of working within a sorely underfunded public health system and public hospital.
On my first day, I found out the emergency department shared an ECG machine with the internal medicine unit on the other side of the hospital, and that the ED did not have a functioning defibrillator.
There were four emergency bays and two 'resus' (resuscitation) beds and the line of patients waiting to be seen stretched out the door and around the corner, never seeming to end. Despite this, the medical and nursing staff endured to provide care to some of the most under-served patients in the world.
Namibia also exposed me to many ‘first-time’ medical experiences.
It was my first time independently working up, correctly diagnosing and treating a patient (a bleeding peptic ulcer); my first time performing CPR; my first time doing night shift working from 8 pm to 8 am; my first, second, third etc. time seeing and treating stab wound patients who would come to the ED on night shifts, and my first time actually feeling like a doctor.
I also took time to explore Katja’s beautiful home country with her family. We explored the city, went on road trips and game drives, stayed at beautiful lodges and made a trip to Cape Town for the New Year.
Looking back, my time in Namibia was an invaluable experience, and I’m grateful the staff were so welcoming and supportive. I only wish I could go back with the knowledge and skills I have now and do it all again.