When I applied for the World the World competition, I was thinking what a unique experience to learn a different culture’s way of working and living. When I won, I knew it would be the shaping of me as a radiographer and as a person.
Work the World provided such great support, both in the UK and in the host country. Whilst in Sri Lanka Kavinda (programme manager) and Nili(assistant manager) became my friends and family – they were vital to the success of my placement. For example, Kavinda ensures that the departments are content with the individual students participating in their hospitals.
On the first day of my placement, the radiology department would not accept me – or any Sri Lankan students – into the department, due to on-going strikes over disagreements about the degree programme (the majority of radiographers hold diplomas; the first degree programme was set up about five years ago, amidst much opposition).
By the time I had arrived at Kandy General Hospital and had found out about the potential set-back, Kavinda had already organised a placement at a different hospital (Peradeniya Hospital), which could begin the following day.
As for that day, I was able to work in a department that I would not ordinarily get the chance to work in – obstetrics and gynaecology. Without Kavinda’s contacts and great relationships with clinical staff, I would not have had a placement to attend. Furthermore, the whole experience highlighted the plight of the progression of radiography in Sri Lanka.
Working in Peradeniya is surprisingly bureaucratic and hierarchical. As mentioned, the radiography profession in Sri Lanka is undergoing huge change, but I was surprised how well Tamils and Singhalese staff worked together, even though the civil war only ended a couple years ago.
The relaxed nature of the radiology department struck me as quite funny and they would joke that English radiographers are ‘goldfish’, because they earn a lot of money!
Infection control, patient management and radiation protection are very different from the UK, with patients on the floor, broken equipment, stray dogs running around the hospital, family members remaining in the x-ray room during exposure and regular power cuts!
Moreover, no trolley work is performed; all patients must be transferred to the x-ray table. Most manual tasks – moving patients, pushing the mobile machine to wards etc – are performed by radiography assistants and they laughed at me when I tried to help transfer a patient!
Also, I never realised how handy positioning pads were until I went to Peradeniya hospital where they have none. They also never perform horizontal beam laterals on trauma knees nor hips, however I was talking about this to a radiographer and she has now started to use these projections.
When I left the hospital of an evening I returned to luxurious accommodation which was in a beautiful location. Added to that, I had Prasanga (the best chef ever) who cooked traditional dishes and western meals with a Sri Lankan kick!
I also had the chance to live and socialise with students from other professions and we all capitalised on the inexpensive food, travel, gifts, accommodation and trips around Sri Lanka.
I was able to witness the religious festival Esala Perahera, as well as a Hindu festival. I was a guest at two Buddhist weddings - the people are so friendly, the radiographers feed you so much and introduce you to their families. Also, be prepared to get personal – they ask a lot of questions about your life!
Without the SCoR and Work the World, I wouldn’t have had these experiences, which enhanced my communication skills and clinical knowledge, as well as my personal journey. I will be feeding back the experience in more depth at the Society of Radiographers' Annual Student Conference.
This is such a great opportunity, that no one should pass up. I’ve learnt so much and I am still in contact with radiographers and radiologists in Sri Lanka, which provides a great chance to share radiographic knowledge across countries.