A priceless opportunity in India

See a related story with more student reflections

By Amy Hanson

Three students examine an X-ray in a hospital(Left to right) UI students Samantha Keys, Amy Hanson, and Jessica Kuennen analyze a patient’s X-ray, comparing pre and post-operation scans, at Meenakshi Mission Hospital & Research Center, Madurai, India

The exposure to the medical world that I received in India was unbelievable. It was like learning a foreign language: I do not think anyone could truly learn what I learned from a textbook or a lecture series. By immersing myself in this entire experience, by actually putting myself in India, I was able to see the cultural side of each patient case and factor that into the medical side.

Before interacting with the people there, I would not have thought anyone could turn down a free cataract surgery that would restore their vision. After living there for almost three weeks, however, I learned that nothing comes before family and festivals. I saw how excited people got about the pongal they were cooking in clay pots behind the hospital, the dots they kept putting on our white faces, and the fact that they could communicate “Happy New Year!” to us in our own language, a holiday we value on both our continents. These are just a few of the fascinating things they did and shared with us to express their holiday excitement. I have not only learned about, but I have seen how important it is to them.

From a medical terminology standpoint, I would never have understood that abortion in India typically implies a miscarriage, not a purposeful termination of a baby from a mother who is not ready for one. I also found it intriguing that if someone is lying in an OB department bed, she must be married. These are critical factors in their healthcare system, and they play key roles in the way Meenakshi (and overall healthcare in India) operates and why they do things the way they do.

I think this was the most valuable part of my experience at MMHRC: not just learning about the different patient cases, but hearing the patient history (which included family history and problems, job descriptions and religious factors, diseases discovered sometimes tens of years after the symptoms started because the patient was too poor or too far away to seek medical attention, surgeries prolonged due to the holiday season, etc.), seeing and talking with the patient and their family, examining their scans and having the opportunity to ask questions, and having free reign to wander around essentially every department of the hospital. I was basically allowed to pick up case files for any patient whenever and wherever I wanted. Quite frankly, the experiences I had in India are priceless.

The group of people I got to know in the process—both the students and staff on the trip and the outstanding PT staff and specialists we worked with—have given me resources and connections that I will utilize and keep in contact with for the remainder of my medical career.

UI undergraduate student Amy Hanson is a human physiology major with minors in chemistry and Spanish. She received a short-term program merit scholarship from the Stanley UI-Foundation Support Organization. To learn more about funding for study abroad, visit http://international.uiowa.edu/study-abroad/funding.

Learn more about the India Winterim program.

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