This will be the final blog in the Project series, sad, sad times for us all right?? Following the same structure as I have done for the other projects Starfish has in Surin, I will now be looking at the hints and tips and other bits on information that you might find useful for the Medical Project.
Apparently this isn’t a medical project appropriate face so I had to write this blog with the help of some ex volunteers!
Now I don’t work on the Medical project, strangely enough they aren’t too keen on visible tattoos, facial piercings and the fact that my hair changes colour every other week, so for this blog I had to turn to some ex volunteers and ask them what they would pass on to the next generation of Medical volunteers.
This is what we all came up with 🙂 In no particular order as well I might add haha
Jesse feeling the ‘baby’ in this training dummy at the Surin School of Nursing
The first thing that each volunteer I spoke to mentioned was, to expect the unexpected. This is Thailand, you never know who will come through the doors that day, who you will go to meet or what you will be doing. Sometimes days will be regimented and organised into activities for the whole day and some days? Well, some days may be more free flowing and relaxed with some people going off to do one activity with others going in a completely different direction. Everyone here goes with the flow and takes everything in their stride so don’t be too startled if you don’t do everything you thought you would for that day and you do something else instead. It is all a learning experience and sometimes a change in plans can be an amazing adventure and experience in itself.
All Medical volunteers must be aware that they can be doing anything, from spending the day working in the hospital learning about how Thailand train their student nurses, to walking several miles between homes and villages in order to do health checks on villagers that have no means to get to a hospital. Everyday will be a new adventure and learning experience, just go with the flow and take part in everything that is planned, or not so planned for that day.
We do work with all walks of life from monks to children
The work you are doing is real work. It isn’t a show put on to please the foreigners. This is real work that the hospitals and the clinics need doing on a day to day basis, you will become part of a working team of Thai medical staff that will expect you to work with them and help out in every way you can, to teach them about the culture of working of where you come from and to take on board how different things might be in Thailand. Naturally some days may be quieter in the clinics or the hospital might not be running any special classes, so it might be a quiet day but, take this as an opportunity to talk with the Thai medical staff and learn what it is to work in Thailand. You can learn some incredible techniques and diagnostic tricks just from hearing stories, one that the volunteers learnt that is very helpful is, that when drawing blood from elderly Thai people who work in rural areas, is that their circulation tends not to be as it was, so a little massage on the area you are going to take blood will make it much more comfortable for the patient and also bring up veins much quicker as well as stimulate the blood flow as well.
We do regular work with the tallest man in Thailand, the check ups we do are very important on assessing his condition and his flexibility levels that will hopefully one day improve enough for him to walk again
One thing that Mary Gross, a nursing student from the Lane Community College of Nursing in Oregon, told me to talk about is pockets. Pockets are invaluable and provide somewhere to keep hundreds of pairs of latex gloves, hand sanitizer and also your camera; so if you don’t already, get some scrub trousers or travel trousers that have easily accessible and large pockets; believe me you will thank us later when you don’t have to be scrabbling at the bottom of your bag to find anything.
The Lane Community College Nurses always had pockets stuffed with useful things like gloves and sanitizer
Another thing about clothes as well is that you need to make sure you have light breathable clothes, cotton preferably, and if possible invest in some travel clothes or scrubs that are meant for humid climates; these will be invaluable to your stay and keep you cool in our VERY hot and humid weather!
Don’t forget that Surin is also a normal bustling town with bars and a club so don’t forget to bring non work clothes with you as well!
It is super useful to bring several small tubes of hand sanitizer with you, you will be seeing several ill people who have a multitude of different conditions so making sure that your hands are sanitized is always incredibly important and some places might not always have sanitizer available.
Also have on hand lots and lots and LOTS of latex, preferably non latex, gloves. Some clinics may be running low or not have any spares at all so having your own is always a good back up.
Even inside with air conditioning it is still hot for the girls on the baby unit!
Thailand is hot. You will be walking around and travelling around in several different places for the entire day so staying hydrated is incredibly important, being medical professionals or students you will know how severe dehydration can get if left unattended or ignored. The volunteers I spoke to used to drink big bottles of watered down Gatorade every day in order to keep high levels of hydration; you obviously don’t need to bring over the massive bottles with you but the powder or any other re-hydration powder would be an amazing idea to have everyday. Even when you aren’t on project you do need to keep on eye on your hydration levels; just follow the advice you would normally give to any patient that was travelling to a very hot and humid country for several weeks.
Here you can see Marys very full pad of BP measurements; efficiency is very important when you see as many patients as we do
Another item that is always helpful to have is a pen and a paper pad, this is an efficient and easy way of communicating to the Thai staff on the project, sometimes they read better English than they understand and is also a great way to communicate BP or sugar levels as well as height and weight; the last thing we want is for information to get lost in translation at the expense of the patient. Its also a great way to make a note of any interesting things you have learnt that day, fun anecdotes or events that happened. I always like to write down place names of everywhere I have traveled and if I didn’t have a pen and some paper I would never remember them all!!
Something that Racheal Willingham mentioned to me is that you don’t always need to be taking pictures. Yes they are an amazing way of capturing memories but sometimes it is better to just let the experience happen and effect your soul, let your experience change your life and your outlook on the world.
Photographs are perfectly fine but do always make sure you are asking patients, monks and parents as well as the medical staff if it is OK to take pictures. Sometimes there won’t ever be an issue but the fact that you asked will show that you respect others and will also gain a lot of respect for you as well.
Group photos are a great way of remembering every single person you worked with on your trip
We always need to make sure that we constantly show the highest level of respect for the Thai culture and way of life, this also extends to their medical practices as well. Things will be different here, same as they would be if you went to practice medicine in any other country, but Thailand especially, is a very spiritual and culture loving country. You are very lucky to have a Thai with you as your coordinator and translator that will be able to educate you about all of the different practices, their reasons and their relevance, they will also inform you if you accidentally make any cultural faux-pas that you other wise might not know about.
This is the way in which some of the beds at the hospital are raised and lowered, it probably isn’t what you are used to but sometimes this is all we have to work with.
Another area that will always need to be respected is that Thailand isn’t as developed as other countries in the world, at times the facilities you visit might be very basic and often very old fashioned with out dated equipment that you may not even know how to use due to is primitive nature; this however does not match the expertise and the intelligence of the healthcare providers, every nurse, doctor, physio and other members of medical staff are trained to the very highest level with an incredible level of detail in both modern and traditional methods. All of the staff and students you will work with will be taught to the same level as you, they just learn in a different environment that’s all; they do get taught some areas that other countries don’t even think about though such as massage. Each student is required to be proficient in massage in order to provide the very best care possible for each and every patient; something which I think is amazing and should really be included in other countries.
Sometimes volunteers work in the most rural of locations with equipment that is not the most up to date but they always make the best of what they have to work with
This experience is a way for you to gain experience and expertise that you can’t get in a classroom, working in the field in another country really does test you and everything you know, don’t be scared to learn from our Thai staff and the way in which they do things as well. They are so incredibly experienced and have so many tricks in order to make healthcare in Thailand extremely efficient and effective; take every new situation as a chance to learn something new and you will go back home positively brimming with amazing experiences that you will want to incorporate into your own practices.
Mary Gross told me to let all of you reading this know, that no matter how much you put into Thailand and the project, that you will get more back than you could ever imagine. The staff both at Starfish and the hospitals and clinics we work at love having volunteers who are open and passionate about wanting to learn and experience a different way to work and live; be that and you will have the greatest experience of your life.
Also don’t be too shocked if a patients BP is particularly high if you are the first white person they have ever seen, been close to had touching them!!!
If you haven’t already signed up to the Starfish Volunteers Medical project and want to know more information then take a look at the Starfish Website and the Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook pages. Also have a look at the Starfish Tumblr to see photos from across every project that we do.
Make sure you also look at my own Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, I am constantly updating with stories of what we get up to everyday including blog updates, photos and my own silly adventures as well!!
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto