My time spent serving as part of a medical team on a mission trip to Thailand was invaluable. Though I have spent time traveling and serving medically in the past, I had never done anything to this scale.
The group I traveled with was large and, though mainly focused within the medical field, was quite diverse in the skills that it possessed. There were physicians from specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, dermatology, rheumatology, and pediatrics.
There were also dentists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, nurse practitioners, and students from many of these fields to fill in the gaps.
While I was there, I learned more specifics about the roles health care professionals play and the importance of their collaboration with one another. It takes a whole team to care for a patient well, not just one person or one type of healthcare professional.
During our time at Baan Namkem, I really saw the providers exercise creativity within medicine. We did not have access to all of the conveniences that are available to us normally, so all of the providers had to really use their imaginations in order to serve the people as best as possible.
This included things like using empty plastic water bottles to craft spacers for asthma inhalers and counseling on diabetes by translating lists of “eat more of” and “eat less of” from English into Thai to send home with patients. However, the aspect of the trip that I think has left the most lasting impression on me is realizing the capacity physicians have to make a huge difference in the course of the patients’ lives and truly make an impact.
It is amazing the trust that is bestowed on a person once he or she has earned the title “doctor”. The ability to exercise that trust can be applied as much or as little as the provider decides. What I saw in Thailand was many healthcare providers exercising the trust that had been automatically given to them to teach, to care for, and to reassure every single patient that walked onto the property. They knew the power of taking the time to listen and completing a physical exam to fully understand the issue at hand.
It was essential to easing the minds of the patients they were treating. While the people that we served in Thailand appreciated the time that we took to properly diagnose them and the medicines and therapy we were able to offer, something they repeated over and over was how great it was to feel someone actually cared about them.
This part of medicine is so crucial and intrinsic to practicing, yet it can often be overlooked in the hurry of the day-to-day.
Further, one of the greatest things I am coming back home with is some knowledge about how to practice medicine in Thailand in a culturally appropriate way (some of the cultural practices extend to several other regions of Asia as well).
In particular, I learned that occupations of many of the Thai people dictated a large portion of their health problems (e.g. chronic back pain). I also learned some of the common health misconceptions that are widespread among the people and generally what their outlook on life is.
I have found this type of knowledge to be so important in practicing medicine well in a foreign place. Particularly in the context of primary care, the physician needs to understand his or her patient population in order to serve it best.
These are the kinds of things I will be careful to observe as I pursue global health endeavors in the future.
This trip is something I am going to remember and carry with me for the rest of my life as I continue to pursue my career in medicine.
Meeting the people of Thailand and being able to serve them in some small way has given me a greater appreciation for life and for the gift of education that I have, and more than ever I look forward to the day that I can pass this gift on to others via medical service.
Thank you to MUSC’s Center for Global Health for making this life-changing opportunity possible!
Victoria Way is a first year medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)