Justine Durno, Barts & The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK, (May 2017)
I chose to carry out my elective in Peru, and with Medical Electives, as I had some knowledge of Spanish, but I wanted to further it and be able to incorporate this with medicine. Every day I had at least one hour of medical Spanish class in which I learnt how to take a history in Spanish, and practiced a lot through role-playing.
I feel that this benefited me much more than just simply observing how the healthcare systems differed between the UK and Peru, as I am now able to bring a new skill to the team when I start working as an FY1. There is always going to be a delay before interpreters can attend to patients who cannot speak English, and if Spanish is their first language then even a few simple sentences to explain what is happening to them, will put them at ease.
I know from experience of having deaf relatives in hospital, that even having just one doctor that can communicate with you in your language (in their case, British Sign Language) at a basic level makes a huge difference to one’s experience as an inpatient, in what actually can be a scary place, even to English speakers, never mind those that don’t understand the language around them.
I found the medical Spanish classes endlessly useful when it came to attending medical outreach campaigns, as it meant I didn’t have to talk through an interpreter when asking my questions, thereby making the consultation more efficient. What the campaigns also reinforced to me, was how important it was to ask red flag questions. In each consultation we were armed only with a stethoscope and our ability to perform physical examinations, so we were unable to take samples, perform scans or even make referrals. Red flag questions were a great way to eliminate serious differentials, and put me at a bit more ease that we weren’t missing anything that would necessitate specialist attention. Asking red flag questions is something that I have to keep telling myself never to forget to ask, as it will be what saves my back, as well as patients’ lives.
My trip to South America was easily the best trip of my life. Not only was I able to immerse myself in South American living by staying with a homestay family, and experience what it was like being a medical student in completely different surroundings, but my confidence also grew more than I expected. Five years of medical school has taught me a lot of interpersonal and organisational skills, whereas in Peru I overcame my fear of speaking Spanish in public and making mistakes, so I came back to the UK feeling more self-assured, and I hope to carry that on to working life.
Muchas gracias The Medical Elective Network!